The results of the two semi-final matches on Saturday were a triumph for running rugby. It is also fitting that the two sides who ended at the top of the log will meet in the final.
Both winning sides not only played attractive rugby – they were superior in defence, too.
The demolition job by the Lions on the Sharks proved that sticking to a game plan that works makes sense, rather than to suddenly revert to a conservative approach. The six tries scored by the winning side at Ellis Park bears this out. Despite superior possession (the Lions had about 60% of this) the Sharks actually enjoyed territorial advantage, yet found themselves unable to convert this into points.
The Bulls will rue two selections in the starting line-up. Jaques-Louis Potgieter, normally a very reliable number 10 got it all wrong in the first half, and this had a domino effect on the whole side. If you know that your opposition is lethal when there is space available, and you keep pushing the ball down their throats with poor tactical kicking, you are bound to pay the price.
The same can be said with the selection of Werner Kruger ahead of Marcel van der Merwe. Had the Bulls dominated the scrums from the word go, rather than when Kruger was replaced, things may have worked out differently for them.
While everyone seems to regard the Lions as favourites this coming weekend, there is one factor many forget – the Western Province defence, and their ability to utilise turn-over possession into points.
Hopefully rugby will be the winner on Saturday, whichever team triumphs.
I was very close to feeling sorry for Australia on Saturday when a try scored against them, exactly one second from full time, and the subsequent conversion, cost them the game. It was a very courageous effort by the Aussies, given all the drama in the weeks before, and says much about the character of the Wallabies to take in on the chin.
Ewan McKenzie’s decision to jump before he was pushed must have been a hard one, but with a 50% success rate, probably the best one in the interests of Aussie rugby. While over-eager media men are insinuating that “New South Wales Waratahs coach, Michael Cheika, has agreed in principle to replace Ewen McKenzie in charge of the Australia team…” it was not yet confirmed at the time of writing.
Next week sees the Bok squad preparing about 200 metres from our offices. If you try to contact me, and are told that I have just popped out, you know where I will be.
The Test Run
Limited-over matches in the run-up to the Cricket World Cup next year will attract a lot of attention. Of particular importance to us is the current tour to New Zealand and Australia by the Proteas which kicks off tomorrow.
Of critical importance is that the conditions will allow the Proteas to prepare at the actual World Cup venues, which is the best possible preparation.
Two elements will be tested – firstly finding a suitable replacement for Kallis in the bowling department without influencing the batting balance too much and secondly, form in combinations – bowlers hunting in pairs and batters building partnerships.
Interestingly, the Proteas have a weak record in New Zealand in one-dayers. This is mostly due to the conditions – low and slow wickets. This is, off course, a different low and slow compared to the Asian countries. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are low and slow due to the dryness of their wickets. In New Zealand it’s low and slow due to the high water content.
Tomorrow is the first one-dayer against New Zealand – expect Faf to be in the runs as well and Tahir amongst the wickets. We should watch out for Brendan Mcullum who is in amazing form at present.
I have a good feeling about it though – rumours are that the side is in great spirits and the preparation is going well. Mentally this will be an important tour, and if there are any cracks, they will be exposed.
Roll on half past eleven tonight!