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A Sweet and Sour Weekend

On Friday, the Stormers reverted to their tried and tested approach in grinding out a two point win against the Hurricanes. How ironic that their winning margin was thanks to the never-say-die spirit of Bryan Habana. When last did you see a conversion being charged down? It was heartening to see other stalwarts like Vermeulen and Bekker giving 100% in a match the Cape team had to win. Joe Pietersen had an off night with the boot. Some of his kicks reminded me of my golfing days. I could slice with the best of them in my day. Maybe it was that wind turbine behind the posts which put him off?

The signs are there that the Sharks can improve, judging on their great comeback. In a way, the match reflected their season thus far. Notoriously slow starters, they were behind by 24 points before they knew it. They came back well, then blew their chance of at least getting one point when Daniel elected to tap and run when they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts, with seven minutes left on the clock. As lady luck is wont to do, she arranged a crucial penalty right at the end to deny the Sharks that vital point.

The Bulls are in top gear at the moment. They are clinical in their execution, and with Morné Steyn back in superb form, they stay on the front foot. Hougaard seems to have regained his mojo, adding sparkle to an already abundantly talented backline. As things currently stand, they deserve their place at the top of the SA conference and, together with the Cheetahs, look the two most likely sides to make the playoffs.

Nelie Smith

Nelie Smith

The Cheetahs have thus far scored seven wins in ten matches, justifying Naka Drotske’s statement that winning is becoming a habit. With eight points from two bye weeks still to be added, they will be hard to catch, leading up to the playoffs. They also have the advantage of having finished their overseas commitments. Saturday’s game was surely one they marked as a win at the start of the season. Not scoring the fourth try, which would have put them at the top of the SA conference, must have been frustrating. Has anyone else noticed how much Naka is starting to look like Nelie Smith?

The Kings fought valiantly, but to no avail. It really is sad that they may not have the opportunity of at least two more years of Super rugby. The playoff at the end of the season is an unreasonable sword over their heads.

An interesting article in the New Zealand Herald also touches on the topic of injuries which we discussed on Thursday, and provides possible reasons why the Aussie teams are really doing well this year.

The bulging casualty ward is perhaps the place to start when it comes to trying to understand the lack of conviction from New Zealand’s Super Rugby franchises.

Of the 32 players who toured Europe last year with the All Blacks, almost half have not played, barely played or sporadically played this year because of injury.

That does much to explain why Australian franchises are enjoying a rare period of domination in Transtasman clashes. For all the talk of their conference being softer and less intense, the Australian franchises have looked more cohesive, better organised at the breakdown and more prepared to be conservative and patient.

They have improved, no question, but arguably they look better than they really are because the New Zealand sides have regressed as a consequence of missing key personnel. It also does much to explain why standards at the Chiefs, Crusaders and Hurricanes have not consistently been as high as they were last year.

But that’s not the full explanation for the current malaise. As Blues coach John Kirwan rightly mentioned, the prospect of playing against the Lions is a huge carrot for Australian players. It was the same in New Zealand in 2005 – everyone wanted to be involved and knew they had to perform in Super Rugby to win selection.

Gelukkig het die Bulls die Warratahs verlede naweek op hul plek gesit. Die Kings het uitstekend gevaar teen Australiese spanne vanjaar, en ons hou duim vas dat hulle eerskomende naweek weer so sal maak.

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