Cape Town - Sport24 highlights 5 talking points after Round 14's action of Super Rugby:
1. Super Rugby’s worst referee?
It’s fair to say that Australian referee Rohan Hoffmann had a dismal night during the Waratahs’ 33-18 win over the Sharks in Sydney on Saturday.
The scoreline flattered the Waratahs with several debatable calls going against the Sharks, including a 'forward' pass from Bismarck du Plessis that clearly went backwards and a 'high' tackle from Lionel Cronje on Kurtley Beale, who went down in the tackle just before contact was made.
There was also a bizarre incident just before half-time when the Sharks kicked a penalty out close to their own goal-line, thinking time was up.
Cronje didn't kick the penalty out very far because Hoffmann told the Sharks it was half-time. Then the referee said there was still time for the lineout. The Sharks were clearly not very happy with this, but luckily they managed to play out the final seconds without conceding further points.
Several other 50/50 calls appeared to go against the Sharks and former All Black coach John Mitchell rightly pointed out in the SuperSport studio post-match that Hoffmann's management of the tackle, ruck and offside line was woeful, and that he talks too much.
Hoffmann was also heavily criticised for denying the Stormers in their loss to the Hurricanes a few weeks ago and it’s no wonder his countryman and former Wallaby wing David Campese described his performance as a “joke” on Saturday.
2. Bulls back to one dimensional
After impressing on attack in recent weeks, the Bulls crept back into their shells in their 23-18 defeat to the lowly Blues in Auckland on Friday.
The Pretoria side are capable of scoring some great tries out wide, and have showed it in recent times, but they over-used the driving maul on Friday and kept the ball with their forwards for too long.
After dominating possession (61%) and territory (81%) in the first half, they somehow found themselves trailing 16-13 at the break.
3. Pollard not the finished article
Handre Pollard is no doubt a talented player and will play many future games for the Springboks, but his tactical kicking needs improvement.
He made one glaring error in Friday’s game against the Blues which this writer feels swung the momentum of the clash. The Bulls were leading 6-3 in the 18th minute and dominating territory and possession when Pollard failed to find touch with a clearing kick.
Blues fullback Lolagi Visinia caught the ball near halfway, countered and sprinted through several defenders to score. By that stage, the Blues hardly had any possession and territory, yet found themselves 10-6 in front.
Pollard needs to realise how crucial the error was in the greater scheme of things so he won’t make similar mistakes when playing for the Boks against the All Blacks.
4. Depth a real issue for SA
As things currently stand, a South African team will find it hard to earn a home-semi-final in this year’s competition, with the Stormers perhaps the best bet.
It was a dismal weekend for South African teams, with all four competing teams losing.
The Bulls went down to the Blues in Auckland (23-18), the Sharks lost to the Waratahs in Sydney (33-18), the Lions were undone by the Brumbies in Johannesburg (30-20) and the Cheetahs were thumped by the Highlanders in Bloemfontein (45-24).
Nick Mallett was right when he said in the SuperSport studio that the lack of depth in South African rugby is a worry, especially with the Kings joining an expanded competition from next year.
Mallett said: “The Lions have played above themselves and have played incredibly well to be where they are. Given the way the Cheetahs performed in this game, how on earth are the Kings going to compete next year?
“Where are they going to find the players? It's a big concern for 2016. We're going to have an extra Super Rugby franchise and we've got 350 professional rugby players competing overseas.”
5. Lions squandered golden opportunity
With the Stormers having a bye and the Bulls losing, the Lions had a golden opportunity to top the South African Conference were they able to beat the Brumbies in Johannesburg.
Despite going up 6-0 early in the game, the Lions quickly found themselves 22-6 down following a blitz of tries by the visitors.
Ball retention while on attack proved the Lions' undoing as the visitors pounced on several dropped balls in contact.
Coach Johan Ackermann rightly noted afterwards: "We’ve challenged the guys to start well then we go up 6-0 and we do a few good things and suddenly the bad habits of losing the ball in contact and not looking after the ball at ruck time comes in.
"They then punish you with two soft tries and they get a bit of momentum with you trailing at half-time."
Instead of topping the South African Conference, the Lions remain in eighth place on the overall log and have to win their three remaining matches and hope for permutations elsewhere to go their way if they are to slip into the playoffs.