Vodacom Super 14
Pienaar excels at scrumhalf
Johannesburg - Ruan Pienaar's huge last-minute kick was the highlight of the South African Super 14 weekend, while the poor performances of the Cheetahs and Australian referee Stuart Dickinson stood out at the other end.
The Sharks were perhaps a trifle lucky to clinch Saturday's match against the Hurricanes 29-26 in Wellington. The home side made most of the play in the second half of a match marked by too many errors from both sides to give their fans any hope that they could somehow miraculously get to the play-offs.
Pienaar was outstanding - as a player in his rightful position of scrumhalf.
He proved that he can kick as he showed throughout the match and that he can also kick under pressure as he demonstrated with the last act of the match.
One hopes that Springbok coach Peter de Villiers will now drop the notion that Pienaar is a flyhalf or that Ricky Januarie is a better scrumhalf than Saturday's Sharks hero.
It was a much-needed win for the Sharks and the Hurricanes' fourth successive defeat after their three losses in South Africa - and both sides will have to go back to the drawing board and try to eliminate the errors and obvious weaknesses.
** Dickinson, for so long the scourge at times of all South African rugby sides including at Test level, had one of the days that South Africans would like to forget. He was inconsistent, often wrong and ruined a good match for two sides that wanted to play rugby.
Ill-discipline there definitely was on the Lions side, but 17 warranted penalties there certainly were not.
In the end, Highlanders fullback Israel Dagg's six well-taken penalties saw the home team through to only their second win of the season with the 39-29 scoreline cruelly keeping the Lions winless after seven matches.
The Lions scored five tries to three, and the five could have been more if Dickinson had referred two efforts by the visitors.
However, a lapse in focus that cost the Lions 26 points in 23 minutes before and after halftime won and lost this match.
The reality is that the Lions must start learning their lessons.
** The Cheetahs, who lost captain Juan Smith on the morning of the game due to the illness of his father, missed 12 tackles and also made 12 handling errors in the Bloemfontein match on Friday where the Reds were always in control as shown by the 77 tackles the Cheetahs had to make against the 55 by the visitors.
The final score in Bloemfontein was 31-10 to the reds who scored three tries to the Cheetahs' one - a solid win indeed.
If the Cheetahs don't improve on this performance, they are in for another disastrous tour to Australasia that starts this weekend.
** The Bulls are going to come short one of these days. They controlled the first few minutes in Perth on Saturday and were 7-0 up against the Western Force. Then they simply went off the boil against a spirited but undisciplined Force side that missed many passes and even tackles through over-exuberance and inexperience, with a number of teenagers playing for them.
The Force led 12-10 at the break, but better structure and a more noticeable game plan by the Bulls in the second half saw them score two more tries in their 28-15 win with all the home side's points from penalties.
However, the Bulls were denied a bonus point through some committed tackling and could rue this squandering of a bonus point against the winless side as the run-in to the play-offs draw closer.
** The Brumbies still have only a single bonus point to show for their efforts. On Friday they beat the Chiefs 30-23 in Canberra in a game that produced some good moments but was mainly a sloppy effort from both sides.
The contribution of Brumbies centre Matt Giteau as playmaker and tactician cannot be over-emphasised. That was probably the difference between the two sides where the Chiefs pack was in control but their finishing not good enough.
Three tries to two are a good reflection of the game in which many opportunities were squandered by both sides and with the winning Brumbies try by Matt Toomua coming a minute from time.
With only three wins from six outings, the Chiefs will start doubting their ability to make the final again as they did last year.
** Good defence and excellent tactical kicking from Berrick Barnes at centre helped the Waratahs to control Saturday's game against the Blues in Sydney for longer periods than the visitors. The Waratahs won 39-32, and the Blues poor defence and the fact that the visitors' pack was dominated made matters rather easy for their backs.
In the end the five tries against four made the difference in a match the Blues could have won but for their now habitual loss of focus just when it seems that they will take control.