Let's begin with the Blues vs Lions match because it's very much on my mind. Here you had a visiting side, bristling with talent; three great loose-forwards, strong front five and a backline with power, speed and an awesome ability to break tackles, sidestep and accelerate. For their part, the Lions had grit, skills, solid defence, focus and determination. They also had Marnitz 'Dead-Eye Dick' Boshoff.
But man for man, this was a match for the Blues to lose, and lose they did, despite a second half in which they showed a quality of attacking rugby not often equalled. But they left it too late. Where were they in the first half? Asleep? Clearly. Unmotivated? Certainly. Under-prepared? Definitely. ? Over-confident? Without any doubt.
So where was the coaching and the leadership? Sir John Kirwan needs to take a long look in the mirror. He can't sidestep a major share of the blame. But the Blues players! Seldom have I seen such an arrogant disregard for the laws of the game. Penalties were given away like confetti. Had they done enough homework? No, of course not. Had they analysed the play of Boshoff. It seems not. Did they underrate the Lions pack under the tireless captaincy of Warren Whiteley. Are you kidding?
The truth is Johan Ackerman and his coaching team out-thought the visitors from Auckland,. They had a game plan based on consistent harassment, devastating tackling, lightning-quick opportunism and provision of a platform from which Boshoff could do his thing. His kicking out of hand both tactically and for touch was immaculate. He did not miss one attempt at goal. His drop goal came after sustained pressure by a terrier-like pack of forwards; a delight to watch. With great guts, the Lions held on against the might of a blitzkrieg panzer attack by a team who thought rugby was a forty minute game. The tortoise beat the hare hollow. (Faf de Klerk improves with every game. What a little star!)
The Chiefs simply outgunned the Stormers. Relentless attack is the phrase which comes to mind. Their mantra of 'Forward! Forward!' worked, and works every weekend, like clockwork. This they did with exceptionally accurate passing and support-play. Ker-Barlow was great behind the scrum. Although closely marked, Cruden again excelled with his judgment and skill in all phases of flyhalf play. It was a display of magnificent team work with very talented performers. Their coach, wayne Smith, former All Black fly-half, said it at half-time:” Our strategy was to run them off their feet' The players obliged. What a team! and – they could leave players of the class of Fruean on the bench! An embarrassment of riches.
On the Stormers side, it was pleasing to see Aplon of old scythe his way through the defence to score a wonderful try. Defence, as expected was very tight, but the Chiefs found a way to use brute force to break the line. (Coaching staffs must be working very hard to find ways for mauls to work and for the ball to be concealed well enough for a grounding.) Nizaam Carr came on as an impact player and what an impact he had! I know Vermeulen had played sixty minutes before Carr arrived, but he had looked to me below his best. Perhaps he was doing unspectacular but vital work in the engine room. In any case, Carr was explosive and his try a beauty. But the Chiefs, well-led by Leon Messum, kept possession and with powerful drives, it was inevitable that a try came towards the end from Latimer, a tireless and aggressive flank.
In all phases of the match, the Stormers, though valiant, were forced to play catch-up rugby. Any luck going went, cruelly, the way of the Chiefs e.g. the lucky bounce off James Lowe's heel to provide a try. 36-20 was a fair indication of how the match played out. It's no disgrace to lose to a team like the Chiefs.
The Force continued their fine form against the Highlanders. What's been the spark? In any event, credit to the coaching staff, the players and the captain, Matt Hodgson, who had a great 2. game. Throughout, the Force showed terrific control, distribution and retention of the ball. Apart from a couple of dreadful missed tackles – too high – on Buckman, they were sound.. So we were privileged to watch a match won through sustained pressure. For the Highlanders, Aaron Smith showed his class, not least with his perfectly judged grubber for Treeby to score.
Professional fouls in the red zone were again cynically committed and I was pleased to see yellow cards given. ( What is this nonsense of having two captains? The brilliant Ben Smith, at fullback, was named as 'co-captain'! Whose idea was that? And to what purpose? Who's making the vital decisions? Next thing we'll have a committee.) 31-29: a thriller!
Sharks vs Reds: won by a superbly-prepared Sharks side. 35-20 summed it up. Lambie never missed a kick at goal, the front five dominated, the loose forwards played very well. This meant good ball for the backs and they showed exciting speed and teamwork on attack. The game became sloppy before the end with the Sharks letting in Harris for a soft try. But the game had more or less been won. ( Poor Harris and the knock-on under the poles on the stroke of half-time!) Genia's try was a fantastic individual effort; great player.
( I've been very critical of scrummaging in previous reports. This weekend, the power of sustained powerful pushing, and what seemed to be a 'double-rhythm shove' worked wonders for the Sharks. When the ball is gained from scrums going forward, half-back play is a pleasure. There are so many more options available. ( I enjoyed commentator Matthew Pearce's reference to the 'dark art of scrumming' – for many of us, uncharted territory.)
The Waratahs vs Brumbies provided another example of thrilling attacking rugby. Two first-rate teams, well-matched, battled heroically and with great skill. So why did the Brumbies win? On the whole, it turned, I think, on better ball-control and an ability to cross the gain line with regularity. ( Did you notice a clever – illegal? - move by the Brumbies from a lineout at one point? What happened was, as the ball was thrown in, the Brumbies' number 8, fell back four metres from the line of throw – certainly not back the 10 metres required while the lineout is still stationary – then took the pass from the scrumhalf and was over the advantage line in a flash. I think a try resulted after a few phases.) Another match of great quality: Brumbies 28- Waratahs 23.
A few last thoughts: should the game be held up because a player can't tie his laces properly? What are coaches doing sending on replacements 60 seconds from time so players can claim a 'cap' – derisory!; I don't like refs calling captains by their first names. Impartiality, for me, demands the use of 'skipper' or 'captain'.
Perhaps I'm just too old-fashioned.
Captained Rhodesia 1962 – 1969 Rector of Michaelhouse. (1978-1986)
"Rugby is a thinking game – its’ not a running or a kicking game. This mania for running with the ball and playing open rugby at all costs is stupid – you must adapt yourself to the circumstances and play to your strength"
Now 50 years later Niel Jardine writes for Frosty Rugby Fans ...