1) 'Being able to draw pretty' is the new 'being able to win ugly'. 2) South African results on tour are the worst they have been for years. 3) Gert Smal's mere presence on its own is not enough to galvanise the Stormers. 4) Handre Pollard has had his moment of announcing himself in professional rugby. 5) The revolution against the half-time interview is up and running.
1. ‘Being able to draw pretty’ is the new ‘being able to win ugly’.
It’s always been said (in rugby as well as other sports) that teams prove their champion credentials by showing their ability to win ugly. Well, the Chiefs have now given a new twist to this as the back-to-back champions have proved their credentials with back-to-back comeback draws.
With 4-try bonus points achieved in each drawn game, it means the Chiefs go back to New Zealand with a tour haul of 6 log points. Top teams are generally satisfied with taking 6 points from their stint in the Republic, and this surely makes it the most successful tour ever that didn’t include a win.
As for the game in Bloemfontein itself, it wasn’t just the fact that they caught up with a 24-point half-time deficit that impressed. It was the calmness around the whole comeback that stood out. No player rushed or forced the issue, which might have opened up chances for soft tries to the opposition. By the last 20 minutes, when the deficit went from 15 points to 8 points, it felt as though the Cheetahs were the ones with a mountain to climb, not the Chiefs.
They managed to end it thrillingly with their try on the hooter to cap off an enthralling game. The Cheetahs were full value for their half-time lead, and the Chiefs oozed class in rescuing themselves in their own enterprising way.
Screw the ground out, hard-fought arm-wrestle wins as season definers. Give me the draw with the great comeback narrative and the running rugby any day.
2. South African results on tour are the worst that they have been for years.
The 2014 drought of wins by away teams who had crossed the Indian Ocean had become a cute anomaly. Now that the Crusaders and Waratahs have ended it with a quick flood of wins on tour, we are left waiting for a South African team to follow suit as the cute anomaly starts turning into a cold reality.
After the Cheetahs and Stormers returned home having lost all 4 of their tour games, the Bulls loss against the Hurricanes marks the 9th loss in a row by South African teams on tour in 2014. That makes it the worst collective South African streak in a single Super Rugby season since 2005. That year, the South African sides ended up losing 12 games on tour in a row, a streak that can only be avoided this year if the Bulls pull off a win on tour.
If they don’t, it seems a big ask for a young Lions team to get much from their tour. Which means it might be all up to the Sharks to be the sole ones flying the flag high when it comes to overseas games. Hell, if certain trends continue, it might be all up to the Sharks to be the sole ones flying the flag high on the Super Rugby log itself.
3. Gert Smal’s mere presence isn’t enough on its own to galvanise the Stormers.
No-one should have ever realistically expected an overnight quick fix by Gert Smal, but one might’ve thought that his hiring and presence could’ve brought out at least an extra gear by the players performing at home in front of their new boss. Alas, it was not to be.
We already knew that the ugly Stormers game wouldn’t provide a tournament-winning challenge let alone get much out of a tour from hell. Now all the problems get magnified when it doesn’t provide a home win, especially when your opponents ended the match so utterly in control.
A lovely try that came from a good Peter Grant pass and a Juan de Jongh break aside, it was an insipid Stormers performance. The Waratahs were patient against an organised defence, which meant they had more than enough ball to control the game, and control it they did.
It’s likely that the future of the coaching staff won’t be seriously under threat before the end of the tournament (because this isn’t football). If Smal is going to share some tactical nous for his coaches to build on, he better do it soon. The good news is the Stormers have a bye this weekend. The bad news is that it means more teams will pull away from them as they sit at the bottom of the log.
4. Handre Pollard has had his moment of announcing himself in professional rugby.
He became one of the most hyped players that didn’t have a Super Rugby cap in the last 2 years. That’s what leading the way from flyhalf in a World Cup winning Baby Bok team will do. While he’s yet to establish himself at this level, Handre Pollard has given us an exciting glimpse of what his much anticipated professional career can bring.
An away loss to the Hurricanes wasn’t unpredictable for the Bulls, especially when Victor Matfield isn’t playing. Experience counts for a lot when you’re on tour, and it was always going to be rough without it. They’ll be disappointed for a few things now, but hopefully everyone will look back on this game as the one that marked Pollard’s entry into Super Rugby.
A flyhalf try that involves a dummy and a good step is always a thing of beauty. When it comes about after a failed South African staple diet of a driving line-out maul, it becomes an even more beautiful sight for sore eyes.
The way the Bulls have introduced Pollard into Super Rugby bit by bit off the bench has similarities with the way they introduced his Baby Bok midfield partner Jan Serfontein. With Jacques-Louis Potgieter going off injured, Pollard will probably be presented with the challenge of the starting 10 jersey against the Highlanders.
This tour might well end up being rough for the Bulls, but it could provide more than enough to get excited about.
5. The revolution against the half-time interview is up and running.
The Lions have brought a lot of good things into Super Rugby upon their return this year. With some good coaching clearly evident, some little known stars performing and some underdog wins under the belt, they’ve brought many things for people to admire.
However, their most valuable contribution to the tournament (nay, rugby itself) is their most recent refusal to grant a half-time interview.
Warren Brosnihan was left stranded and at a loss with his SuperSport microphone on the sidelines as the Lions all trotted off to the changing rooms at half-time with their minds firmly set on their oranges. A tasteful, classy boycott, sparing us all of the dreaded huffy puffy ‘insights’ that a tight forward whose had his head stuck in a scrum all day has of the game in general, eating up valuable televisual minutes away from Nick Mallett.
Lions, spread the lack of word.
1) Bismarck can keep enough composure when he's captain. 2) The Bulls must learn that you need more than just territory to close off games against the top sides. 3) Deon Fourie can't just turn his line-out throwing on and off like a tap. 4) It's not just one of their customary bad starts. The Crusaders are actually in a bit of trouble. 5) They might be winning the odd game these days, but the Rebels can still make you laugh.
1. Bismarck can keep enough composure when he's captain.
It looked touch and go for a while there, but Bismarck du Plessis managed to get through a game of nothing but niggle against the Waratahs without getting Romain Poited.
It was clear that the away team tried to get in the opposition faces as much as possible (which is a euphemism for ‘be dirty niggly bastards’). After showing some free flowing enterprise back home in Australia, they felt their best chance in Durban was to bring themselves down a denominator or two, hoping the Sharks and their captain would join them.
Well, the new Sharks captain with question marks over his discipline came through that test with a pass mark. While the most satisfying part of the game must have been the final score, the second most satisfying part must have been the Waratahs captain Dave Dennis getting yellow carded after provokingly pushing him.
It was a tough test for a captain (as well as a referee), but he just passed. It wasn’t all plain sailing, especially when it came to communication with the officials, but Bismarck managed to keep enough composure to keep himself out of trouble throughout his approach of ‘But they started it”.
Amidst all that, the Waratahs didn’t offer up much rugby. While it was a big day in the office for some, some Sharks players were hardly tested. To think that Lwazi Mvovo went through a game of playing fullback and still none of us know if he can play fullback.
Let that be a warning that a non-rugby approach against the Sharks will yield nothing more than an off-field yellow card for Frans Steyn.
2. The Bulls must learn that you need more than just territory to close off games against the top sides.
If a draw is like kissing your sister, the Chiefs clearly have a better looking sister.
The Bulls were 16 points up with 20 minutes to play, then 12 points up with 5 minutes to play. While this young team played some good rugby to get themselves into a winning position against the back-to-back champions, you don’t lose from there without being a bit naive.
The Chiefs are a top attacking side that can threaten from anywhere. You can’t just sit on a lead by bringing on some fresh legs and keeping the ball in the opposition half. The Chiefs are skilled enough and confident enough to score from anywhere.
Some substitutions didn’t help the Bulls cause. While it must be respected that players can’t play 80 minutes of every game in a Super Rugby season, sometimes the flow of a game sometimes trumps a pre-arranged substitution.
Deon Stegmann was doing well disrupting the Chiefs ball at the rucks, then he was replaced by someone without fetcher skills. Francois Hougaard was doing well harassing the Chiefs from scrumhalf, then he switched to wing to replace Bjorn Basson (who’d also caused problems from wing). It all added up to the Bulls being less effective than they were.
If you get in winning positions against the top attacking teams, you have to keep up the standards of what got you in that position in the first place. If you’re neither keeping your own ball enough nor disrupting their ball enough, no lead is big enough against the Chiefs, even if you do keep kicking it in their half.
3. Deon Fourie can’t just turn his line-out throwing on and off like a tap.
One of the keys of having a dominating line-out is variation. Deon Fourie certainly showed variation in his line-out throwing. Unfortunately, it comprised of throws that were too short, too far or skew.
While it’s seldom easy for a team to create good line-outs when injuries have taken them down to their third choice hooker (not to mention some new faces at lock too), a total of 6 botched line-outs is a performance totally uncharacteristic of Fourie before he started playing at flank more permanently.
It’s clear that time away from playing hooker eroded away some of the basics of playing the position. Let that be a warning when it comes to praising a player’s positional versatility. If you put a player in a new position, don’t just expect him not to gather rust when it comes to his old position.
Later in the Reds game, when Stephan Coetzee came on at hooker for his Super Rugby debut, a couple of line-outs went fine. Even though he was the fourth choice Stormers hooker (fifth if you include Martin Bezuidenhout, who Griquas refused to make available) with previous experience no higher than the Vodacom Cup, some basics of the position still went better when a specialist was on the field. Coincidence? Of course not.
On a similar note, Francois Hougaard has spent the last few years dancing between scrumhalf and wing. He’s been backed to start all Bulls games at scrumhalf this year and has improved each week the more uninterrupted time he’s spent there. Coincidence? Of course not.
However, he spent the last quarter of the Chiefs game on the wing, which also marked the period where the game started going wrong for him and his team. Coincidence? Well, the Bulls result wasn’t just down to him, but of course not.
Just let a player stick to one position so that he can develop in it. The more time spent in the position, the more second nature the basics become. As Naas Botha might say, it’s hardly bringing the rocket to the scientists.
4. It’s not just one of their customary bad starts. The Crusaders are actually in a bit of trouble.
“Don’t worry. The Crusaders always start slowly” says every rugby pundit pre-April every year as they look at the log with a far-reaching gaze and a knowing glint in the eye.
Well, the Crusaders latest home loss to the Hurricanes confirms that this is no ordinary Crusaders start.
The 7-time champions have now played 5 games in 2014 for a total of 9 log points. That makes it their worst start in Super Rugby since 1996, which was the inaugural year of the Super 12 and they ended up finishing dead last.
This is not their run of the mill, warming up of the juggernaut that leads to a progressive and seemingly inevitable assault towards the top of the log. If they are going to have their customary charge towards the playoff spots, their games have entered the ‘must win’ category quicker than usual.
Now they start their South African tour with a game against the Lions. The 7-time champions surely can’t lose to the newly promoted Lions, could they? Then again, these days, who isn’t losing to the Lions at Ellis Park?
5. They might be winning the odd game these days, but the Rebels can still make you laugh.
They might be beating the Brumbies and doing their bit towards making the Australian conference unpredictably interesting, but they’re still the Rebels.
While being good enough to beat the Brumbies by a fairly comfortable margin, they still had time to contribute to the Super Rugby 2014 blooper reel.
Their first contribution came at the end of the first half. With a penalty in the Brumbies’ 22m area in the dying seconds of the first half, they kicked for touch without checking with referee Jaco Peyper if there was time for a line-out. There wasn’t. So after a little dab into the corner, Peyper called it time for oranges.
They weren’t done yet. In the second half, Mitch Inman was put into space and headed for the corner. With a cover defender approaching, he put in a big dive only to end up grounding it well short of the line and losing the ball. That didn’t stop him celebrating wildly though.
These incidents still rank below last year’s Kurtley Beale punch-up on the team bus, but it’s good to know that the Rebels are not done entertaining.
Some recent results are showing that the Rebels are no longer a joke, but they can still make you laugh. Bless.