Vodacom Super Rugby
Sickly Saturday for SA sides
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Flip van der Merwe (File)
Cape Town – Leading Australian and New Zealand teams stole an important march on their South African counterparts in Super Rugby activity on Saturday.
That is reflected on the overall log as the pace-setting side in the South African conference, the Stormers, suddenly slipped to third behind the Crusaders and the Reds, the latter team having beaten them surprisingly convincingly
Schalk Burger’s men could not even manage a losing bonus point, so they stay rooted to 29 points while the other two advance to 30.
And if that is not ominous enough, another New Zealand combo, the Blues, are now right on their tails in fourth, with the same number of log points and trailing just on a “for and against” basis.
In another reminder of the difficulty of retaining lustre week after week in the extended 2011 competition, the Stormers certainly produced a flat-beer performance against the Queenslanders before a large and disappointed crowd who were doing Mexican Waves more out of boredom at their heroes’ listlessness than for any reasons of buoyant spirit.
It was not as though the Reds were especially fleet-footed themselves, although they caught the home side a little unawares in the sometimes swirling wind by often forsaking their ball-in-hand philosophy to hoist high bombs or kick for field position – the latter an area where they were particularly effective and dominant.
And the Aussie outfit, whose defensive organisation and solidity was excellent against a team in turn renowned for this facet of play, will not care how the victory was achieved: they leave the country with a rare mini-sweep after also seeing off the Lions a week earlier.
Although they have to contemplate the long flight home first, the Reds will also be eyeing the challenge of the Bulls next weekend with some glee as the champions are rather at sixes and sevens.
South African rugby teams generally tend to come a cropper in Brisbane with strange frequency, and Victor Matfield’s side will arrive there having come off a humiliating 27-0
reverse at the hands of the Crusaders in Timaru earlier on Saturday.
The Bulls languish in eighth spot on the overall table and third in the SA conference after the Sharks’ full-house victory
over the Lions in the late game.
With a bye ahead next weekend, where they will duly bank four points, the Durban-based side are back in the picture, to a good extent, in the race for top-placed South African finish – their next date is at home to the wobbling Hurricanes, currently bottom of the New Zealand conference.
But even the Kings Park game didn’t give South African neutrals any special reason for good cheer, as the Sharks laboured in the second half to bank the fourth try after the siren, having dotted down three times against the ever-embattled Johannesburg visitors in the first.
Further south, if we didn’t see as much as we might have expected from Reds maestros Will Genia and Quade Cooper in the “flash” department against the imprecise and ponderous Stormers, the halfback pair nevertheless sent out a reminder that plain common-sense play and strategic nous can be just as impressive a string to their bows in more grinding encounters where line-breaks and other attacking devices are in short supply.
In failing to better a 1999 record by the franchise of six wins on the trot, the Stormers also got into the Reds quarter alarmingly seldom, never mind even earning a good whiff of the try-line.
That will concern their astute brains trust, especially as getting across the whitewash has proved fairly problematic in virtually all seven games thus far - with the notable exception of the Western Force fixture at the ground, when the floodgates finally opened.
Poor discipline is also not something normally associated with the Stormers, so the riot act may well be read to Duane Vermeulen and Deon Fourie for their respective yellow-card indiscretions at inconvenient times in the encounter.
All in all, this was a collective South African weekend in Super Rugby best laid to rest ...