SUPER RUGBY BLOG: 6-7 MARCH
CHIEFS VS CRUSADERS: H20-C17
Well, what a difference a week makes! The Chiefs, playing at home, were awarded TWO penalty tries and still lost. Why? 1. Cruden missed three kickable penalties – end of story. If one needs to go on.....2. Scrumhalf Pulu failed on two occasions to pass to a player who would very likely have scored. 3. The Highlanders’ defence was amazing. 4. Treeby’s great break for the Highlanders, led to a try. 5. Poor psychological attitude from Chiefs – over-confidence? If I were the Chiefs coach, I’d be spitting. The Highlanders deserved to win, but it was a gift-wrapped victory.
The match was characterised by excellent passing – I saw no poor offloads or passes. Scrumming was fine, if you like scrums. Lineouts OK. Thinking of Pulu and his failure to pass, I am reminded of a number of players who ‘seldom’ pass: Muliaina, Nonu (better these days), Mealamu....and now, perhaps, the brilliant Fekitoa. The problem for the latter is opponents know he wants to run and break at will, so they’re ready. He’ll have to do some serious re-thinking.
WESTERN FORCE VS BRUMBIES: B27-WF15
Brumbies outplayed their gutsy opponents. The way in which the Brumbies backline made the ‘extra man’ on many occasions, was very impressive. And Alexander’s support from prop to score after the backs had almost got over was terrific. ( When I saw the line the massive Kurudrani runs at times, I was reminded of a Springbok centre from the Free State who played in the ‘Sixties: Joggie Jansen. He nearly always, in the opposing red zone, would run straight and slightly inwards – very hard to stop. In a match at Hartsfield, Bulawayo, in the middle sixties, he did just that, playing for a Springbok B team against Rhodesia. He took a short pass and ran straight at me. Not known for a devastating defence (!), I was mesmerised. His opposite number, our Lyn Denyer, came across bravely to cut him off, I bounced off his huge calves, our loose forwards were spectators and over he went)
The Canberra match was hard-fought but it was in the end, a comfortable victory, even though in the 75th minute the Brumbies had to stave off a sustained Force attack, consisting of 16 phases or recycles.
BLUES VS LIONS: L13-B10
Who would have believed it?! What odds could one have got? The mind boggles. But there it was – the Blues, again, blew a match they could easily have won. My take is they are a psychological mess, with very inept leadership and worse coaching. I mean how can a side with all this talent continue losing matches they should comfortably convert into victory?
My response to phases of the game include: excellent scrumming by both sides, sterling defence by the Lions, powerful driving and support work by the Blues, a fine game again from Iaiah West at flyhalf, great performances from Kaino and his pack but..........the will to win was not there. The Lions’ try in the second half was testimony to their persistent determination and ‘never-say-die’ attitude. The forwards were magnificent after Faf de Klerk’s riveting break – what a will-o’-the-wisp he is – and Jantjies’ long pass to Combrinck to bring the winning try, out of the very top drawer.
Overall though, this was a match of too many scrums and resets – how boring they are. So, the under-performance of the mighty Blues will remain, for me, a mystery.
WARATAHS VS REDS
A mismatch on the day with the visitors in rampant form. Foley is a brilliant flyhalf, the best in support of his wings on the break I have ever seen. Enough!
But don’t forget, this was a Waratahs side that lost a fortnight earlier to the Western Force. Explanation? Well, once again, I go for over-confidence, failure to prepare properly for what was obviously going to be a tremendous defensive performance by the Force at home.
BULLS VS CHEETAHS: B39-C20: Well, the Bulls finally found form and played to their obvious strengths. They were more energised, clinical and direct in their play than their impressive opponents. At flyhalf, Handre Pollard gave a great display of flyhalf play; he did everything right – passing, line kicks, drop, try, tackling.....it was breathtaking.
The question has to be asked. Why has it taken the Bulls this long to play at this level? I’m dumbfounded. I mean what have they been doing at practices, what has the dressing-room preparation been like? Pretty poor until now. They must have suddenly tumbled to the truth that much of this wonderful game is played between the ears and in the heart. (Raymond Rhule’s try for the Cheetahs was striking for its speed, strength. balance and deceptive running.)
STORMERS VS SHARKS: ST29-SH13
You simply cannot, except on very rare occasions, win rugby matches on the back foot. To play at halfback behind a pack that is being outplayed and driven back is a nightmare. Despite this, both Lambie and Reinach played well, given the trying circumstances. But the powerful scrumming of the home side was what provided the platform for victory. (That’s quite something for me to say, but it had a dramatic psychological effect.)
I heard Nick Mallett and Naas Botha enthuse about the three ‘tightheads’ the Stormers won. Well, it all depends what you mean by ‘tighthead’. When scrumhalves were required to put the ball in fairly at the scrums in the past. the opposition hooker and his tighthead prop could challenge and the hooker, with his right foot, would steal the ball legitimately. But today!!!? It’s a joke. The ball is now put in behind the hooker’s feet, the refs are temporarily blind, no-one says a word and out the ball comes.....unless. Yes, unless the better-prepared pack of forwards scrums very low, holds its opponents up and pushes them off the ball and gains either possession or a penalty. But don’t tell me it’s a ‘tighthead’! The opposing hooker hasn’t even been able to raise his feet let alone hook the ball back.
Until about the 60th minute the Sharks held out, with some fine forward interplay and skilful work by Lambie and the backs – Lambie’s try was a gem. But then pressure caused a succession of penalties against the visitors. Catrakilis doesn’t miss kicks at goal, so it’s best to play in a very disciplined way in your own half. Cheslin Kolbe was, as so often, brilliant with the ball in hand. He is also an example to all of complete ambidexterity with either foot. He showed too he could take the brutal and unacceptable tackles of Francois Steyn, either late or verging on it. What is it with this talented player? Something wrong temperamentally I suspect. His yellow card came not a second too soon. His attitude was disgraceful. The Stormers are on a roll and let’s hope they keep it up. It was a wonderful display of fifteen-man rugby.
NOTE: Last week I didn’t comment on the dominant victory of the Chiefs over the Crusaders. It was as fine a display of cohesive rugby as one could wish for. Errors were minimal. Cruden at flyhalf had a great game and ran twice a ‘straight line’ not often seen these days, as though he was taking the inside break from the pivot position.( When last did you see one of those?) This ’line’ meant quick linking with loose-forwards and much ground was gained over the advantage line. This last week, the same player looked out of sorts and never ran this ’line’ again. I wonder why not? Of course, flyhalves like Goosen and a few others who run at their inside centre as they use the exaggerated spin pass, cannot break inside or even straight. Easy then for the covering defence. N.B.J