Breyton Paulse

SBW could have a Lomu impact

2011-03-31 08:24
Breyton Paulse (file)
Breyton Paulse

The Crusaders and Sharks could not have produced a more spectacular advertisement of what Super Rugby is all about than the one they dished up to the Twickenham fans on Sunday afternoon.

VIDEO: Breyton Paulse chats to Sport24

It was the best match of the season so far, with a really special game providing everything anyone could ask for  - there were some outstanding tries scored, at times there was committed, tenacious defence, there were great angles of running from the backs and the forward packs tore into each other like men possessed.

While there were nine tries scored, the injury toll in the second half, particularly on the Crusaders side, spoke of this being a game that did not lack in physicality. Which again begs the question of how the coaches of the teams competing at the World Cup later this year must be feeling, as Sunday’s game showed us how important game breakers are and also what impact it can have when those players are injured.

The Crusaders weren’t the same team when they lost Dan Carter and Kieron Read to injury. Although All Black coach Graham Henry would have enjoyed what he saw from his seat in the Twickenham stands, particularly the running of Sonny Bill Williams and the way the Crusaders out-scrummed the rated Sharks pack, he might be forgiven if he was anxiously biting his nails when some of the big hits went in.

For him though I think the outlook is a bit different to what it was a year ago in the sense that suddenly there does seem to be a lot more depth coming through in New Zealand. Whereas before we used to say that the All Blacks would be in trouble if they lost Richie McCaw and Carter, now you would have to add Sonny Bill and a couple of other players to that list.

Sonny Bill really is a phenomenal talent and I have to agree wholeheartedly with those who say that he is like Jonah Lomu playing centre. Just as Lomu used to, he occupies so many defenders when he has the ball. He is a massive player for an inside centre, and after a slow start initially for Canterbury in the NPC when he first moved across from league, he is now realising his full potential.

Clearly he just needed time to settle into rugby union after playing so long in rugby league. He now knows when to go to ground, what decisions to make in given situations, when to throw out those 50/50 off-loads and when not to.

With Carter calling the shots inside him, his attributes – he can also step remarkably well for such a huge man – make him a lethal opponent for defences to have to deal with.

While the Kiwis also have Ma’a Nonu, it looks like Sonny Bill is going to make a huge impact at the World Cup – provided he stays fit and he does not fall victim to what could be a high attrition rate in an arduous Super Rugby season.

But depth seems much less of an issue to the Crusaders at the moment than it used to be, and the same can be said for some other teams, most notably the Stormers. A few seasons ago no-one would have given the Stormers any hope of playing well with Schalk Burger absent, yet when they scored their great win over the Bulls at Loftus the other day, there was Schalk watching from the sidelines.

Pieter Louw played so well in his absence that had he not been injured for this week’s game against the Sharks there may well have been a debate over whether maybe he should start ahead of Schalk. Pieter has improved hugely as a player and the Stormers back-row looks really well balanced when he is present.

With Western Province’s great improvement over the past while in their age-group rugby, the Stormers have been able to increase their depth across the board, with young players like Gary van Aswegen and Danie Poolman, plus Rynhardt Elstadt, looking comfortable in Super Rugby. Deon Fourie, after being a reserve in the past, has also taken his opportunity at hooker.

The Sharks have great depth too, and I think it is those teams, the ones with depth, that will be there fighting it out for the trophy at the end of the season. At this stage it is the Crusaders, with all their game-breakers, that look like the side to beat.

The Chosen One for this week will be the Stormers for breaking their eight year drought at Loftus and then following it up with an excellent victory over the Western Force to set up a mouth-watering derby against the Sharks in Durban this coming weekend.

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Breyton Paulse is a former Springbok player and is the Powerade "Chosen One" expert columnist

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.



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