Super Rugby shifts up a gear

2013-03-15 10:44
Alan Solomons (File)
The past round of Super Rugby proved to be a great one for the South African sides. There is no question we possess top class rugby players in this country.

Our sides fundamentally play structured, organised rugby owing to the fact that we are blessed with big, physical players. There is no question that when our game plan comes off it proves mightily effective.

The Cheetahs kicked off proceedings with a fine away win against the Highlanders. I felt that the home side paid the price for playing with reckless abandon and suffered two intercept tries. The visitors meanwhile employed a far more disciplined, structured style of play.

The Stormers continued the South African sides’ momentum with a hard-fought win over the reigning-champion Chiefs. Having suffered back-to-back losses the men from Cape Town came out firing and appeared highly determined to get their campaign back on track.

The Bulls ended the weekend on a high for the South African sides by earning their maiden win in Auckland. All those involved at the Bulls deserve a lot of credit as it’s never an easy task winning your tour opener.

Obviously rotation is natural during a lengthy Super Rugby season, but John Kirwan clearly didn’t select his strongest side. In my view, this selection indicated somewhat of an underestimation of the Bulls and the Blues duly paid the price.

Reflecting on the Stormers-Chiefs match, it was a frenetic, end-to-end encounter at Newlands. While the home side crucially registered their first win over 2013, I noted with interest that the Chiefs still managed to score four tries.

One does take cognisance of the fact that the Chiefs got in behind the Stormers’ defence with neatly placed kicks. They clearly analysed how the Stormers defend and realised there was space in behind and took advantage of that.

The Chiefs, our opponents this Friday, are a streetwise side and shrewd in their analysis of opposition. Moreover, they have skilled players across the board and a sound leadership group.

Overall, they are very powerful side and at this point in time, I would suggest that they definitely stand out as the No 1 side in the New Zealand Conference.

In terms of potential areas of weakness, while the Chiefs are a decent side at setpiece, I certainly don’t feel they are as strong as the South African sides when it comes to that aspect of play.

However our primary point of focus this week has been on maintaining possession for longer periods of time. We have to get our hands on the ball and hold onto it for longer than we have been doing and ultimately make less tackles.

While the Sharks a terrific side, I think the Chiefs pose even more defensive challenges. They are great finishers and as we saw against the Stormers, if opportunities present themselves in the opposition 22, points usually follow.

There is no question Aaron Cruden is a top class player. Physically he may not be the biggest man, but he is brave, highly skilled and in possession of a booming boot.

Cruden doesn’t always play at flyhalf defensively and it’s interesting to note that he does interchange with fullback Gareth Anscombe. The latter played at No 10 for the Blues and is therefore an equally adept playmaker and kicker of the ball.

When I was still coaching the Stormers, I recall a game at Newlands in 1999 where Wayne Smith - current Chiefs assistant coach - swapped Andrew Mehrtens and Leon MacDonald around on attack and defence.

The Crusaders-Bulls clash promises to be a tough encounter this Saturday. Having suffered consecutive defeats, the men from Christchurch will be itching for a positive result.

While the Bulls are on a fine unbeaten run, I feel they will come unstuck against the men from Christchurch. The home side are in the same position the Stormers were in last weekend and are simply desperate for a win.

The battle in the Shark Tank should also serve up a fine spectacle. While Jake White’s men are flying high in the Australian Conference, I believe they will finally meet their match.

I’m tipping the Sharks to beat the Brumbies as I feel they will outmuscle their opponents by dominating the physical exchanges.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

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