Super Rugby Take-Away – Round 17 SA Conference

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Super Rugby Take-aways
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 30: Andre Esterhuizen of the Cell C Sharks during the Super Rugby match between Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions and at Jonsson Kings Park Stadium on June 30, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The Super Rugby Take-Away from Round 17 of the SA Conference means some hopes were dashed, while other’s dreams remain alive. We take a look at the games to see what we have learned with only two regular rounds left to go in the tournament.

Super Rugby Take-Away – Bulls Set-Piece Play a Bust in Singapore

In the first of two must-win games for South African teams over the weekend, the Vodacom Bulls traveled to Singapore National Stadium to take on the Sunwolves. The hosts have proven that they can be competitive at home and have already notched up their most wins in a single season so far. It was easy to predict that the Bulls would attempt to use their set-pieces to dominate the hosts into submission. While the Sunwolves, in turn, would seek to spread the ball and clear their breakdowns quickly.

“We put down our ‘stempel’, “put down our mark” Willie Brits said after the game, which is exactly what the Sunwolves did. Regardless that Willie used the Afrikaans word for Stamp, it remains true that it’s become typical of the Sunwolves’ game plan to attack off the line quickly, attempt as many offloads as possible and catch the opposition’s defenders napping. The Bulls failed to adequately prepare for this. Their attempts to slow the game down and settle into structured play didn’t succeed. In fact, the fly-half and inside center pairing of Hayden Parker and Micheal Little decimated the Bulls defensive lines regularly. By also mixing up their line-out plays, the Sunwolves undermined the Bulls’ apparent advantages.

The Bulls’ loose forward trio were also shown up regularly. They only managed to effect one turnover in the entire match between the three of them. By comparison, Micheal Little frequently slowed down the ball at the breakdown and got four turnovers by himself. The Bulls struggled to defend their possession, frequently losing the ball after going through multiple phases. The Sunwolves have proven this year that if they sniff a chance, they are likely to take it to the wire. This time they closed out the game in style by retaining possession through a number of phases to run out the clock and get the win.

Sharks Get Their Revenge on the Lions

The Cell-C Sharks managed to get their revenge on the Emirates Lions. After losing against them in the first round of the competition, they defended gallantly to claim a remarkable victory. The win came against the run of play, as the Lions had almost 65% of possession during the match. In fact, the Lions spent over twenty minutes in the Sharks’ twenty-two, however failing to capitalize on the scoreboard. By comparison, the Sharks only got down in the Lions danger zone 7% of the time.

Its also worth noting that the Sharks made one-hundred and seventy-one tackles in the game. The Loose-Forwards, Dan Du Preez and Phillip van der Walt, making over fifty of those between them. The Lions’ returning Springboks, Malcolm Marx and Warren Whitely, didn’t have the impact they would have wanted. The Lions missed ten more tackles than the Sharks. With such little possession, its amazing the Sharks’ center pairing managed the amount of carries they did.

With all to play for, the Sharks improved markedly in the second half. They prevented the Lions from scoring another try, while getting two of their own. One these was from an interception by Lwazi Mvovo after some lazy passing in the Lions backline. He ran the full length of the field to secure the lead and with the Sharks defense almost unbeatable, ensured their victory.

Stormers Travel to Jaguares’ Fortress

The Super Rugby Take-Away from the Jaguares season is that Buenos Aires has become a fortress for the South Americans. This weekend saw their fifth victory at home, coupled with four on road. They have cleaned up their discipline and can now compete in the set-pieces against the best of teams. The Stormers on the other hand are struggling with form, not managing a single victory away this season so far. No surprise then that the Jaguares are in the running to end on top of the Conference Log.

Poor defense has been the hallmark of the Stormers campaign this year, while the Jaguares have steadily improved over time. They have also settled on a regular starting fifteen, giving them continuity and allowing them to trust their defensive structures. Add to that their ability to strike from broken play, the ‘wooden-spoon‘ label from last year is well and truly a thing of the past.

Although the Stormers managed to claw back possession in the later stages, the Jaguares managed to maintain their energetic defense and kept a clean sheet for the final twenty minutes of the game. This is big match temperament which may see them threaten teams during the playoffs. They also seem to have gathered a belief in their own ability to win, at home or away, and currently stand on a seven match winning streak.

It now falls on the Bulls to do the Lions and Sharks a favor by beating the Jaguares this coming weekend in Pretoria. Failing that, the Jaguares will have made history by not only getting to the playoffs for the first time, but likely getting a home Quarter Final in the process.

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