Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after Round 16 of the 2017 Super Rugby competition, as well as the final Test between New Zealand and the British and Irish Lions in Auckland.
1. Controversial call from French referee
It was no doubt the biggest highlight of the rugby weekend, so it is fitting to include the final All Blacks v Lions Test as a talking point.
After a 15-all draw, the series ended in a 1-1 stalemate but the contest will sadly be remembered for a controversial decision late in the game by referee Romain Poite.
The Frenchman initially awarded the All Blacks a kickable penalty, before changing his mind to rule an ‘accidental off-side’ and awarded a scrum to the home side.
Poite was no doubt influenced by Lions captain Sam Warburton to change his mind.
Lions hooker Ken Owens seemingly played the ball in an off-side position and many penalties have been awarded for similar offences in the past. If this penalty was given in the first minute it would not even have been a discussion.
However, where I felt the officials dropped the ball was in their failure to see All Blacks skipper Kieran Read transgress in the same incident.
Replays showed Read making contact in the air with Liam Williams, which led to the Lions fullback losing control of the ball.
Several players have been sin-binned in recent times for doing exactly what Read did and in my view he should have been penalised.
Read did not win the ball and therefore was not allowed to make contact in the air in the way he did.
2. PRO12 here we come!
It was finally confirmed on Friday that the Cheetahs and Southern Kings will not participate in Super Rugby from next year.
Both franchises are now set to feature in the PRO12 - a European competition featuring teams from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy.
The Kings, who further impressed this past weekend by beating the Bulls in Pretoria, should prove a handful in Europe, along with the Cheetahs.
The upside of this venture would no doubt be the monetary boost for these regions while it could be the start of more to come - perhaps in future we could see South African teams participate in the European Cup.
It’s a similar time zone that SA players would relish instead of long and arduous trips to Australasia.
The negative of this scenario is that the dilution of strength in the South African game would remain lopsided - Super Rugby has shown SA Rugby that it perhaps does not boast the resources to maintain six professional franchises.
3. Lionel Cronje has come a long way!
Kings flyhalf Lionel Cronje showed nerves of steel when he slotted a last-minute penalty from close to the touchline to hand his side an upset win over the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
Not only has Cronje stepped in to fill the captaincy void at the Kings with aplomb, but he’s also having the best season of his career.
The former Junior Springbok showed much promise as a schoolboy but had failed to live up to those lofty expectations. He had become somewhat of a journeyman, having spent time at the Cheetahs, Stormers, Bulls, Lions, Sharks and even the Brumbies in Australia.
But he’s excelled at the Kings this year and a call-up to the South African ‘A’ side was just reward for finally proving his worth.
4. Stormers not knockout contenders
The Stormers scored an unflattering 52-15 win over the Sunwolves at Newlands on Saturday night.
Nick Mallett summed it up best when he expressed his concern at the Cape side’s performance: “This was a fun, touch-rugby type of game. But it won’t be good enough in the quarter-finals. It was a situation of the Stormers having more talented individuals than the Sunwolves, which is why they won. It wasn’t a collective, organised team effort.”
The Stormers’ frailties were badly exposed on their trip to New Zealand and I can’t see them progressing past the quarter-finals.
A lopsided tournament structure means both the Stormers and Sharks will make the playoffs this year, however both teams aren’t capable of winning the competition.
5. Good riddance to 18-team Super Rugby!
In case you didn’t notice, aside from the two games in South Africa, there were three Super Rugby games played in Australia at the weekend.
Australian rugby is surely at an all-time low and the quality of their Super-teams leaves much to be desired.
The Waratahs, champions in 2014, were embarrassed at home by an equally appalling Jaguares outfit, while the Brumbies - who will feature in the playoffs - lost to the hapless Reds.
No-one bothered to even watch the Force defeat the Rebels and the best decision SANZAAR has made this year is to cull three teams from the competition.
The Brumbies will make the playoffs despite boasting fewer log points than the worst placed New Zealand team.
Logic went out the back door when the tournament structure was decided...