Chiefs setting the standard
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
What is clear is that two sides from each Super Rugby Conference are starting to emerge. Despite resting a number of players, the table-topping Chiefs had no problems seeing off the Lions. They are proving a difficult side to beat. As I predicted, the men from Christchurch are coming on strong as the season approaches the business end.
The Brumbies scored a good win over the Waratahs and are now certainly establishing themselves as the top Australian side. Jake White has helped them rediscover their winning culture and hunger. However, the Reds are improving each week and while the Brumbies got a head start on them, it will be interesting to see how that battle pans out.
In the South African Conference, the Stormers and Bulls are certainly the best two sides, and will have impressed Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
Heyneke has timed the Bok planning camps appropriately and made it clear he wants to get to know the top players in the country. He is meticulous in his planning and will leave no stone unturned in his quest to make South Africa the strongest rugby nation.
Many are touting Jean de Villiers as the next Bok captain. He has captained the Stormers very well this season and certainly has to be a strong contender. He no doubt has the capabilities.
Jean’s will make a huge difference on his return to the Stormers side this weekend. I would be surprised if the Stormers don’t take the game against the Cheetahs. While South African derbies are usually tightly contested affairs, I’m predicting the Stormers to win by at least 10 points.
The Cheetahs do play an attractive brand of rugby, but I don’t think they have the individual game breakers required to stretch the Stormers’ stellar defence. While Sias Ebersohn is a very good young player, the loss of Johan Goosen is a massive blow. He is an exceptional all-round player, and is also a loss to the Springboks.
While Morne Steyn and Francois Hougaard, a solid combination for the Bulls, would certainly have been Heyneke’s first choice halfback pairing, I was tipping Goosen to have been in the mix from the beginning and saw him being blooded off the bench. He is the full package. He is an outstanding kicker of the ball, has good distribution skills and has the ability to run a game. He is also quick and is not afraid defensively.
Loosing a number of loose forwards to injury, the Stormers are starting to look a little thin there, but the likes of Nizaam Carr, Siya Kolisi and Rynardt Elstadt have really done well this season. It’s not ideal playing Elstadt at blindside flank, so Allister Coetzee is right in his attempts to secure another loose forward.
The Francois Louw move doesn’t seem like it’s going to materialise, but he is an outstanding player and would have made a significant contribution, as he knows the system and set-up.
Turning to the Bulls, the first game on tour is always a difficult one, with jetlag and fatigue a factor, but to some extent, they underestimated the Rebels. Subconsciously you can’t help thinking of a five-point win over a basement dwelling Australian side. They lapsed in defence, but that will be shored up this weekend and I believe they will have enough in their arsenal to defeat the Waratahs.
While Morne Steyn is not a Henry Honiball on defence, he certainly doesn’t lack courage. Defence isn’t the strongest feature of his game, but he’s still more than capable of closing down his channel. Steyn is an experienced player with good temperament, is a great kicker both out-of-hand and off the floor, and he is able to run the game effectively.
The Reds v Chiefs game promises to be a cracker. When playing against the Chiefs the key is to kill them at source. If you can somehow disrupt them at set-piece and put pressure on their halfbacks, it can have a knock-on effect. However, it’s not easy as they are a very well-balanced side. If you can get the edge upfront and control the tempo and position of the game, you can beat the Chiefs, but personally, I don’t think the Reds have the wherewithal to defeat them.
I think Sonny Bill Williams has live up to the off-field hype. He is an outstanding player, who attracts the attention of a number of defenders. Your defensive system has to be alert at all times to that offload. The Chiefs have a potent 10-12-13 axis, all good enough to start for the All Blacks. Aaron Cruden is in the form of his life.
It was a strange set of circumstances with Will Genia doing a last minute U-turn to stay at the Reds over the Force. I think the Reds have done very well to keep him. He is an outstanding player and key man for them. Most players have their price, but I think Genia has done the right thing in staying with the Reds.
Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.
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