SHARKS VS BULLS: LOFTUS VERSVELD: BULLS 23- SHARKS 19
The loss of both Lambie and Reinach was a serious blow to the visitors. Steyn kicked two long penalties which Lambie would not likely have goaled, but the former missed two relatively easy ones, which Lambie would surely have popped over. The Bulls won through tried and tested application of 'slow poison' ( Ludeke's comment). Great tries by Alberts for the Sharks ( give that one to Reinach for the break) and du Plessis's breakaway effort for the Bulls. JL Potgieter continues to impress: calm under pressure, most decisions sensible – and that long drop?! Again! Playing great rugby.
LIONS VS REDS: LIONS 23- REDS 20
The Reds gave it away. When you're ahead by 15 or so points at the half, it's a disgrace to lose. The Reds became complacent, casual and careless after the break. Cooper, after a brilliant display in the first half, looked, thereafter, as though he was checking the local talent: focus not on the game in hand. The Lions who played without cohesion, support or good skills in the first 40 minutes, came back, with courage, against a side that had lost its resolve and discipline. They were exposed as a team with an inability to cope with the consistent sniping and forward driving play by a resolute and lively home side. The Reds are now blaming the ref for the uneven penalty count. Well they can go on moaning. The professional fouls they committed in their 22 and red zone were pathetically obvious and crude. Horwill's leadership, under pressure, was weak and misplaced. Instead of complaining to the ref, he should have showed real commonsense, warned his players against transgressions, treated the ref with more respect and nous and, then, rallied the troops.
At end of the first half, I wrote: ' Lions have been outplayed in all departments'. In the 50th minute, I noted ; 'Will the weaker side win? Surely not.' ( But I, and I guess, many others watching the Reds self-destruct, detected a loss of self-belief and a tendency to protect a lead – always a grievous error.) The visitors were suddenly and inexplicably responding instead of taking the game to the Lions. They lost all initiative. It was riveting drama. Overall, guts, sustained attack, self-belief and improved basics in the second half, saw an unlikely result for the Lions. Take a bow, Warren Whiteley and the coaching staff, who must have been as surprised at the end as I'm sure many of us were.
HIGHLANDERS VS HURRICANES: 35-31
The teams cancelled each other out. The early passages of play saw too much kicking away of possession. It was boring rugby. Some great tries: Ben Smith's after a devastating break by Sopoago of the H'landers; Barrett's try after clever play from Perenara – great passing and a decisive run-in. The only poor passes during the whole match were passes to the right!! I rest my case; the 'passing coaches' are asleep. Another intercept try from a long, loopy pass - you guessed it - to the right. How the Hurricanes can leave a brilliant back like Andre Taylor on the bench for so long is a mystery? The moment he came on things began to happen.. He changed the tempo of the game.
REBELS VS WARATAHS: 32-8
Folau and Beale were on top form. ( How about that W's try from their red zone with Folau finishing? Who else? Nothing else to say; Rebels outplayed heavily.
CHEETAHS VS BLUES: 40-30
I was so angry with the incompetent Argentine ref, Pastrano, ( under-cooked Pastrami!) that I found it difficult to watch. Pastrano's decision to award a try to the Blues, contradicting the TMO's finding, when a) there was double-movement b) the ball was knocked on c) the ball never reached the try line is the worst decision I've seen by any ref since this tournament began. The Cheetahs have every right to appeal. The Cheetahs dominated territory and possession, so what went wrong? Well, for one thing, the Blues scored 14 points while Boom Prinsloo was off with a yellow card for ten minutes.
It's hard to blame one player for a defeat – nobody tries to play badly – but Willie le Roux's performance was so inept ( apart from the break that led to Hendricks' wonderful try) and erratic that he was personally responsible for giving away at least ten points. The amateur fumble of the ball near his 22, - subsequent try - was disgraceful. Then the hospital pass to Cornall Hendricks who gave away a penalty because he had no support, was equally inexcusable. It's all very well to have flair, but the foundation of all success in this game, and others I guess, is control of the fundamental skills. Put those two factors together – Prinsloo's yellow card, le Roux's ineptitude and throw the hapless Pastrano into the mix and you have your answer.
BRUMBIES VS STORMERS: 25-15
First pick your captain, then pick your kicker, so the saying goes. Peter Grant is a tidy flyhalf without sufficient skills to manage a game. Under pressure he was found wanting and missed two easy penalties which may well have brought his team victory or something close to it. He choked. (To be fair, White, for the Brumbies, missed three goalable attempts too). But Grant's tactical kicking was also off target and gave away possession. He needs a coach who can rebuild his confidence and judgment. I thought the Stormers' forwards played with consistent fire but the backs, despite heroic efforts, could neither penetrate nor dominate. ( What's de Villiers' role in all this?). For the home team, Mogg, often a decisive factor, was inconsistent; his meaningless grubber early on – too far, too much in field – seemed symptomatic of his mood. I thought Vermeulen had a great match – full of 'sound and fury signifying' a lot. Great try from a well-worked maul. The Stormers' support play is just not there – to give one example, de Villiers break early on when he was forced to pass to a well-marked Fourie on the inside because his outside backs were not up with him. In fact, they played the whole game too far behind the gain line. So now? Where to for the Stormers? I see the WP President is considering major reappointments as I write. My advice? Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. But the coaches need a real rev. They should rethink their whole approach.
FORCE VS CHIEFS: 18-15
The match of the weekend! If one ever needed proof that consistent positive driving rugby pays dividends this was it. Impenetrable defence from the Force alongside well-executed basic skills brought an unexpected victory. In his sportsmanlike interview after the game, Cruden – what a player he is! - was quick to praise the Force. He admitted, more or less, the Chiefs had been over-confident. So, who was responsible for that attitude? Captain and coaching staff, that's who. The lesson is : don't underestimate anyone!
Success is a fickle mistress: take her for granted and she will dump you when you least expect it. Wayne Smith and his fellow coaches' faces said it all. They were stunned as the game neared its end. The tackling of the Force was of World War One intensity, bodies thrown across to better effect than anything in those terrible battles which we commemorate a 100 years hence this year. (For those with an interest in that war, I think it was best summed up by the title of a soldier's book written afterwards: 'Lions Led By Donkeys'.) Hodgson was terrific! Everyone uses mauls but the Force and the ball carrier were outstanding in their drive, direction and judgment.
PS I've more or less given up on a) balls put in skew at the scrums b) leading elbows smashing into faces and then going unpunished c) professional fouls in the 22 and red zone. I'm going back to my opinion, from my son Mark, of a few weeks ago - award at least four points for penalties in the opposing 22.
But I'll be back next week, I'm sure, moaning once more about a) b) and c) above. Till then.....
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 ...