As we get to the business end of the tournament, we look at the only two games for the Super Rugby Week 19 SA Conference Wrap. The Emirates Lions played spectator from the stands as the Vodacom Bulls took on the Jaguares and the DHL Stormers hosted the Cell-C Sharks. With both games influencing the log standings, the games came with a good wallop of existential drama.
Super Rugby Week 19 SA Conference Wrap
Some favors were called in by the Lions. They were sitting pretty on top of the conference only a few weeks ago. A recent loss of form meant the Jaguares could catch up and were within striking distance of displacing them. It came down to hoping that the Vodacom Bulls could stem the tide and help the Lions retain a home Quarter Final spot.
Bulls Face Stampeding Jaguares
The Jaguares knew that playing at Loftus was going to be tough, especially in the latter stages of the match, so they struck early. Scoring two tries in quick succession with an execution style double tap in the first five minutes. The Jaguares improved remarkably at set piece play over the season. On Saturday afternoon, they showed they can run with the big dogs when it came to line-out and scrum time. Playing into their hands, the Bulls used a box-kick strategy from the restart and coughed up possession like the Marlboro Man with a two-pack a day smoking habit.
The Jaguares also adequately prepared for the rush-defense from the Bulls. They stood deep, always had a support runner and once they drew in a defender, looked for the offload. Their line creating holes regularly all over the park, which they could then comfortably attack from.
Bulls Attack Finally Settles
The Bulls finally struck back with pace and patience once they got down to the Jaguares side of the pitch. Their rush-defense got them penalized a lot, but once they retained possession they also cleared the ball quickly from the ruck. They fought their way back into the game with quick passes into space. Scrumhalf Embrose Papier wrote a white-paper on aimless kicking, gifting the Jaguares with possession that allowed them to run at the Bulls from everywhere on the field. The Jaguares’ speedsters, Ramiro Monyano, Emiliano Boffelli and Jeronimo De La Fuente, all beat the Bulls’ defenders regularly.
The game was played at a frantic pace which left the visitors gulping for air after two thirds of the game. They cleared their bench at the fiftieth minute mark. The Bulls were in the lead by then, leaving the Jaguares chasing the game. The TMO gods also smiled on the Bulls, as they were awarded a try that any other group of officials wouldn’t have allowed. The controversial decision came from a maul, where the ball was fumbled at the back before Marco van Staden gathered it and crashed over.
Jaguares Winning Streak Comes To An End
Although the Jaguares scored another try in extra time, it wasn’t enough to win the game. They needed to convert the try earn the losing Bonus Point. As Nicolas Sanchez had already been substituted, it fell to Emiliano Boffelli to take the kick. He barely missed and the Jaguares log points thus remained unchanged.
The Jaguares won seven games in a row in the lead up to this match. A victory would see them overtake the Emirates Lions at the top of the log, with one game to come. However the Bulls must’ve have received some gift baskets from the Lions earlier in the week. They finally ended the Jaguares’ run of victories. They will take their campaign to Durban next week to face the Sharks in the final conference game of the season.
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) July 7, 2018
Sharks Hang On By A Thread
At the coastal derby in Cape Town, the Sharks visited the Stormers at Newlands. The Stormers are already out of the competition and were playing for pride alone. The Sharks still had a decent shot at finishing seventh on the log, likely facing the Waratahs in the playoffs, so they had everything on the line.
The Stormers, with nothing to lose, decided on a liberal attack. The Sharks in contrast were already in playoff mode. They opted for goal with their first three penalties. In a situation were every log point matters, this was the clearly the wrong option. As opposed to last week when they mauled the Lions and dominated close to the line, this week they sought the easy points. Their defense also crumbled quickly, allowing space in broken play and an eager Stormers attack to break through their lines quite comfortably.
Stormers Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride
The DHL Stormers are always tough at home but the Sharks played with a conservatism that would make the GOP proud. They had also opted to bench some in-form players, thinking they would come in handy in the final stages of what was expected to be a close match. But trailing 21-9 at half time meant coach, Robert Du Preez, quickly changed tactics. He replaced winger S’bu Nkosi before the break and loose-head prop Juan Schoeman shortly after halftime. Stormers coach, Robbie Fleck, responded in kind by bringing on Steven Kitshoff and Wilco Louw. This resulted in all Springbok front rows packing down at scrum time. A match-up that the Sharks managed to dominate.
However, it was too little too late for the visitors. Although they managed to get more possession and compete at their opponent’s scrums, they failed to get any front-foot ball. The Stormers didn’t get any more tries in the second half and the Sharks only crossed the line once. Some brilliant stepping from the replacement winger, Jacobus van Wyk, saw the only five-pointer from the visitors for the night. The Stormers applied pressure on the Sharks’ fly-half Robert Du Preez. This made the Sharks’ attack look like a clumsy teenager at times and Du Preez must have had flashbacks of Washington DC as he failed to adapt to the host’s ruthless defense.
— DHL STORMERS (@THESTORMERS) July 7, 2018
Sharks Hopes for Seventh Place Finish Dashed
The Sharks couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities, leaving balls behind that should have been run in for easy tries. If the Stormers had shown the same amount of guts and determination earlier in the season they would have easily been contenders for the playoffs. They used every remaining ounce of energy to close out the game and leave the Sharks’ despondent and beaten. The Sharks have to face the Jaguares at home next week, while the Jaguares have a comfortable five point lead on the log. The Lions will play the Bulls at Emirates Airline Park. If the Jaguares manage to beat the Sharks, which is a likely outcome and the Bulls manage an upset victory over the Lions, the Jaguares could still top the Super Rugby SA Conference. It all still comes down to the final week to see who get’s the coveted home Quarter Final.
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