Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after Round 6 of the 2017 Super Rugby competition:
1. Better from Bulls, but...
The Bulls produced a much improved performance against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Not many gave the men from a Pretoria a chance, but a 9-3 half-time lead gave fans hope and when the Chiefs led by only one point (13-12) heading into the final quarter, an upset was still very much on the cards.
However, the Bulls ran out of steam in the final quarter as the home side racked up a 28-12 bonus-point win.
Perhaps the notion that the South African teams aren’t as fit as their Kiwi counterparts rang true in this scenario.
Apart from losing three scrums, the Bulls matched the Chiefs in most key statistics derived post-game.
The Bulls made two more metres on attack (488m) than the Chiefs, both teams carried the ball the same amount of times (113), while the men from Pretoria beat 27 Chiefs defenders, compared to 21 from the home side.
The Chiefs also conceded more turnovers (21 to 17) and were forced to make more tackles - 117 - compared to the 93 tackles made by the Bulls.
The Bulls bossed the rucks won category (73-58) and the penalties conceded category was even at 11-apiece.
These stats point to a close game so the argument that the Bulls simply ran out of puff at the end is perhaps justified…
2. Cheetahs doing themselves no favours
The Stormers deserve plaudits for their 53-10 demolition of the Cheetahs at Newlands. Their ball-in-hand approach was too hot for the men from Bloemfontein to handle and coach Robbie Fleck’s game plan is coming together nicely.
However, it needs to be said that the Cheetahs were bloody awful.
The Cheetahs’ handling skills were appalling for a professional team, while their familiar Achilles heel - defence - was again exposed.
Coach Franco Smith insists that there’s nothing wrong with his side’s defensive system, stating the following in an exclusive interview with Sport24 last week:
“Our defensive principle is about numbers and channels and we never get outsmarted. We have adopted a line speed approach on defence, which I trained for seven years in Italy, and know works well. It gave us good reward in the Currie Cup and now we must stick to it. People may see our defence as a weakness but our tackle completion rate is much higher this season than last.”
Thirty missed tackles and eight tries later pretty much means you were outsmarted!
Nico Lee’s last-minute inclusion at wing also backfired. Lee, who normally plays centre, was picked at right wing after Sergeal Petersen pulled out.
Two Stormers tries came directly after defensive errors from Lee - where he went inside instead of staying in his wide channel - allowing the Stormers’ Dillyn Leyds to beat him on the outside.
In the same interview, Smith pleaded for the Cheetahs to stay in Super Rugby but the rugby they dished up at Newlands on Saturday did nothing to boost their survival hopes...
3. Costly infringements from Sharks lock
It’s fair to say that Sharks lock Etienne Oosthuizen’s indiscretions cost his side victory against the Lions at Ellis Park.
When Sharks centre Andre Esterhuizen went over in the corner in the 25th minute, the Sharks thought they had an 18-3 lead, only to see the decision referred upstairs for possible foul play.
The try was cancelled after replays showed Oosthuizen cleaned out a Lions player around the neck.
It robbed the Sharks of an opportunity to go 20-3 up - and it’s tough to envision that they would have lost the game from that point.
Then, shortly before half-time - with the Sharks leading 16-6 - TMO Johan Greeff determined Oosthuizen again got hold of a Lions player around the neck and instructed referee Jaco van Heerden to award a yellow card.
It proved costly as the Lions scored 14 points - for a 20-16 lead - by the time Oosthuizen had returned to the field.
It was no doubt a game changer.
Several pundits were of the opinion that the yellow card was harsh, but one can argue that the referee had no choice after Oosthuizen’s earlier indiscretion.
Officials may need to take another look at the way the law is being interpreted, it is a contact sport after all...
4. A great advertisement for SA rugby!
The above-mentioned comments aside, the match between the Lions and Sharks was a great advertisement for South African rugby.
The 38 000-strong crowd witnessed a thrilling display of high-quality, high intensity rugby, with both teams showing a willingness to attack.
Apart from several handling errors, the quality of rugby on display would have made Springbok coach Allister Coetzee sit up and take notice.
Teenage flyhalf Curwin Bosch’s star continues to shine and he deservedly notched another man-of-the-match accolade.
Drop-goals at vital stages from both sides also showed there is still a time and place for this almost lost art in the modern game.
5. Fleck reminded of old mishap
There was a comical moment late in the Stormers v Cheetahs game when the visiting side’s No 8, Henco Venter, was seemingly coasting in for a try - only to see a never-say-die effort from Stormers wing Cheslin Kolbe tackle the big loose forward from behind as he was set to score.
It looked as though Venter was surprised at being hauled in and he promptly knocked the ball on as he was about to dot down.
The commentators immediately referred back to an incident in 2001 when Robbie Fleck, then the Stormers centre, was hauled in from behind by Deon Kayser of the Sharks in a Super 12 game in Wellington.
Fleck, who was clearly unaware of Kayser behind him, slowed down as he approached the tryline, before losing the ball as he was tackled.
When Saturday's incident occurred, television cameras immediately zoomed in on Fleck, with the Stormers coach chuckling.
There was also a similar scenario in a European Champions Cup quarter-final match at the weekend when Springbok utility back Willie le Roux - playing for English club Wasps - lost the ball as he was diving to score against Leinster.
In Le Roux’s case, there was no tackler and he simply lost control of the ball attempting a spectacular dive.
Le Roux, bizarrely, even tried to con the referee by celebrating the ‘score’...