Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after Round 11 of the 2018 Super Rugby competition:
1. Shock loss knocks Lions off top spot
The Crusaders’ 21-8 win over the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday saw them move to the top of the overall standings.
It followed the Lions’ shock 27-22 loss to the Reds in Brisbane earlier in the day.
The Lions went into the clash as heavy favourites - having thumped the Waratahs 29-0 in Sydney the previous week.
They were expected to easily fend off the Reds but produced their worst first half of the season as they went into the interval trailing the Reds 24-0.
A gallant second half fightback saw the Lions at least gain a bonus-point but it was not enough for them to keep top spot on the overall log.
The Lions are nevertheless still 11 points clear atop the South African Conference standings - after the Bulls failed make up the deficit following a home loss to the Highlanders.
2. Heartbreak at the death for Bulls
There was heartbreak for Bulls fans when Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga displayed nerves of steel by slotting a last-gasp penalty to hand his side a 29-28 win at Loftus Versfeld.
It was however a game the Bulls should have won - they dominated possession and territory and also had the upper hand at scrum time.
The Bulls also outscored their opponents four tries to two but the in the end discipline - and ultimately Sopoaga’s boot - proved the difference.
When centre Jesse Kriel barged over with less than five minutes remaining one would have expected the home side to hold out for the win.
However, they lacked the necessary composure and this is a result that they may rue come season’s end.
3. Pollard has inside lane for Bok flyhalf spot
An injury-free Handre Pollard is slowly but surely regaining the form that saw him perform as the country’s best flyhalf in 2015.
Against the Highlanders he took another step towards reclaiming the Springbok No 10 jersey.
Pollard’s physicality and willingness to play on the gain line is a major advantage for the Bulls’ attack.
He is also a solid defender and his ability to put his outside backs into gaps was on display when he put Jesse Kriel through for what many thought was the match-winning try.
He also showed his opportunistic side by intercepting a Highlanders pass before sprinting nearly half the length of the field to score.
I’ve got a feeling that Pollard is Bok coach Rassie Erasmus’ first-choice for the flyhalf position...
4. ‘Foot off the pedal’ Stormers…
As is customary when they play at home, the Stormers came out firing in their clash against the Rebels on Friday afternoon.
A 24-6 lead early in the second half was the perfect launchpad for the hosts to run away with proceedings and also claim their first try-scoring bonus point of the season.
However, as is often the case with the Stormers, they took their foot off the pedal midway through the second half, allowing the Rebels to claw their way back into the contest.
JJ Engelbrecht’s try after the hooter gave the Stormers some sort of ascendancy on the scoreboard but it was not enough to secure the try-scoring bonus-point.
As expected, the hosts dominated at scrum time and deserved to claim a fourth straight home win.
There were however too many errors for their long-suffering fans to get too excited for the remainder of the season.
5. De Allende regaining form
Stormers centre Damian de Allende has copped heavy criticism in recent years.
And rightly so.
His form has been way below the level that saw him become a Springbok in 2014.
In my view, De Allende’s basic skills have let him down, with weak passing and kicking often not easy on the eye.
His unwillingness to offload has also copped criticism in many quarters.
However, to the player’s credit, he has steadily improved his form in recent weeks and against the Rebels showed what he’s capable of.
His try in the 16th minute - when he burst through several Rebels defenders after receiving the ball off a lineout - was a sight to behold.
De Allende also caught the eye with an impressive offload in the build-up to Engelbrecht’s first try in the 33rd minute.
It’s these sorts of performances that will help De Allende prove his doubters wrong.
His 1.90m and 105kg frame can be put to great use in a Springbok jersey.