Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after Round 10 of the 2018 Super Rugby competition:
1. Marx, Kwagga standouts for Lions
The Lions’ impressive 29-0 win over the Waratahs was spearheaded by a powerful performance up front.
For me, hooker Malcolm Marx and flanker Kwagga Smith, were standouts.
Marx's star continues to shine brightly and there’s no doubt that South Africa's best No 2 is world class in his position.
Marx proved a menace for the 'Tahs, whether on defence or with ball in hand or turning over possession.
Smith, meanwhile, was equally effective and is making his presence known in the 15-man game.
The mobile loose forward is a constant threat with ball in hand, he bosses the breakdowns and it was no surprise to see him again cross the tryline in Sydney.
If Smith can keep showing improvements on defence, then he might add a Springbok blazer to the Blitzbok one already hanging in his cupboard.
2. Horror weekend for Aussie teams
There were indications earlier in the season that the Australian teams would be more competitive in 2018.
The Western Force’s elimination from Super Rugby was expected to add more depth to the remaining four Aussie teams.
The Rebels started the season in impressive fashion and were seemingly flying high in late March after thumping the Sharks 46-14.
However, two disappointing home losses - to the Hurricanes (50-19) and Jaguares (25-22) - and a 28-10 defeat to the Bulls in Pretoria this past weekend have left them well behind in the pecking order.
On Saturday, the Reds were outclassed at home by the Chiefs (36-12) - a result which ensured 35 losses on the trot for Australian teams against New Zealand opposition.
On Friday the Waratahs, who are the Australian Conference leaders, were second best by some distance at home against the Lions, while the Brumbies’ 25-20 home loss to the Jaguares on Sunday completed a horror weekend for Australian teams.
3. What is wrong with the Blues?
The Kiwi teams continue to set the standard in the competition - except for the hapless Blues.
The Blues' 34-16 home defeat to the Highlanders on Friday was their 15th straight Super Rugby loss to a domestic rival!
It’s hard to believe that this was once the trend-setting team in New Zealand rugby, with the Auckland Blues dominating the early days of Super 12.
Auckland was also the traditional powerhouse in New Zealand rugby, but that mantle has been taken by Canterbury - and the Crusaders - in the professional era.
Blues coach Tana Umaga's job is under pressure as he has failed to turn around the team's fortunes since taking over from John Kirwan at the start of the 2016 season.
Kirwan was equally unimpressive in the role between 2013 and 2015.
4. Ugly win for Bulls
Often the sign of a good side is one that wins with ease despite not having it all their own way.
Bulls coach John Mitchell perhaps best summed up their 28-10 home win over the Rebels when he said: "You have to win ugly in this competition, but our performance wasn’t superb on attack. We presented ourselves with enough opportunities, especially in the first half. But the guys need to be commended for their composure and clearly (there was) a strategic move by the opposition to slow the game down."
While they may not have been afforded the opportunity to perform at their best, the Bulls will be buoyed by the fact that they still managed a bonus-point win.
Mitchell’s charges have now won three matches on the trot and are a team on the up.
The players deserve better support and let’s hope the Loftus 'faithful' shows up this weekend when they host the Highlanders...
5. A woeful display at Kings Park
Yes, matters improved in the second half, but I can honestly say that the first half of the Sharks v Stormers derby was the worst 40 minutes of professional rugby I've witnessed.
Dropped balls, woeful and aimless kicking, directionless running, lack of discipline and just pure ineptness executing any sort of game plan.
That pretty much sums up a first half that saw the Stormers take a 7-3 lead.
I was further appalled during the half-time break when Sharks assistant coach Dick Muir disagreed with SuperSport commentator Jean de Villiers’ description of a "sloppy" first half.
"I don’t think it was that sloppy," was Muir’s response to De Villiers’ question.
"I think the guys did what they could. Both sides are giving it their all and I just think that the ball is quite slippery - it is quite humid this evening..."
Week after week the Sharks blame the humidity - conditions they train in every day - for the vast number of dropped balls.
Muir, who was a member of a strong Natal team in the 1990s, should perhaps take a walk down memory lane and watch matches from his own era.
Rugby of far greater quality was dished up at the same ground, in the same conditions.
Credit to the Sharks who came out and produced an improved second half performance, but the quality - or rather the lack of it - of their opposition should also be taken into consideration...
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