Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after Round 11 of the 2017 Super Rugby competition:
1. Masters of the cross-kick!
The Barrett brothers, Beauden and Jordie, were the stars in the Hurricanes’ 41-22 triumph over the Stormers in Wellington on Friday.
No fewer than four of the Hurricanes’ seven tries came from flyhalf Beauden's successful cross-kicks.
It worked on every occasion, bar one, and left the Cape side’s back three all at sea on defence.
What’s even more concerning from a Stormers perspective is that coach Robbie Fleck had mentioned the dangers of the Hurricanes employing this tactic in the build-up to the game.
His team therefore knew what was coming, but had no idea how to counter it.
It was nevertheless an improved performance from the Stormers and they should have taken the lead inside the final 10 minutes.
With the ‘Canes leading 27-22 and with a man in the bin, the Stormers appeared to have them on the ropes when they camped on the tryline.
But when replacement loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe knocked on inches from the tryline, the home side rebounded to bag two tries in the final 10 minutes.
2. Cheetahs implode in Bloem
The Cheetahs, who lost in spectacular fashion against the Highlanders in Bloemfontein on Friday night, are perhaps still pondering just how they let this one slip.
The Cheetahs had led 41-24 with five minutes remaining, only to concede three tries to lose 45-41, with the Kiwis cashing in after Cheetahs flank Uzair Cassiem was sent to the sin-bin.
Being down to 14 men was no excuse if you look at manner in which the Cheetahs let slip tackles.
The Cheetahs lack composure in critical moments and talks of elimination from the tournament are clearly affecting their confidence.
3. Bulls in a world of hurt
The Bulls’ humiliating 62-24 home loss to the Crusaders was further embarrassment for their fans, who already had to stomach an unthinkable loss to the Sunwolves earlier in the season.
It was the men from Christchurch’s first win at Loftus Versfeld since 2008 and after bagging 10 tries it’s clear that the ground is no longer the fortress it has been in years gone by.
It must have been painful for Bulls fans to hear legendary former players Naas Botha and Victor Matfield hit out at the team afterwards.
Botha called for the coaching staff to get the boot, while Matfield said there was no clear plan.
4. Are the Kiwis simply fitter?
One thing New Zealanders have become masters of in the last while is their ability to finish matches strong.
The Kiwis are at their most dangerous in the last 20 minutes of matches and this weekend was a perfect case in point.
The Highlanders made a mockery of the so-called altitude advantage for the local side when they ran the Cheetahs off their feet at the death; the Hurricanes bagged a brace in the final 10 minutes against the Stormers, while the Crusaders never stopped scoring at Loftus.
Questions therefore need to be asked: Are the New Zealand players simply fitter? Or do they just display more calmness when it really matters?
My answer would be a bit of both, with a superior skill-set added to the equation...
5. Lions, Sharks march on
Lions captain Warren Whiteley said after their win over the Rebels in Melbourne that the 47-10 scoreline was flattering.
He may be right when he says they are not yet at their best, but their seven-try mauling was their seventh victory in a row and the men from Johannesburg should comfortably win the South African Group.
They don’t have to face the pace-setting Kiwi sides until the playoffs and let’s hope the lack of quality opposition does not come back to bite them - as happened to the Stormers last year when they were upended by the Chiefs in the quarter-finals.
The Sharks, meanwhile, have responded with back-to-back stellar performances after an ugly 9-all draw with the Rebels last month.
Their season is on the right track and they should win the bulk of their remaining games, but are expected to finish below the Lions in Africa Conference 2.
The Durbanites can expect to travel for a playoff, while the Stormers - who should still win Africa Conference 1 - enjoy a home knockout match.
It’s a puzzling tournament structure and changes cannot come soon enough...