Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after Round 13 of the 2017 Super Rugby competition:
1. Officiating under the spotlight
The officiating during Friday night’s Stormers v Blues encounter at Newlands has come under scrutiny.
Referee Jaco van Heerden and TMO Shaun Veldsman were criticised after several debatable calls.
I agreed with some and disagreed with others.
Firstly, Blues wing Matt Duffie received a yellow card for going off-side when the Stormers were hot on the attack. The Blues were not warned beforehand but it was welcome to see a Kiwi side finally punished for this spoiling tactic. In my opinion, New Zealand teams have for too long gotten off lightly when deliberately conceding penalties while they are camped on their own tryline. Duffie’s second yellow card - and subsequent red - was no doubt the right call as he clearly dived on Cheslin Kolbe who was on the ground.
Eben Etzebeth’s yellow-card for pushing a Blues player in the face was done according to the letter of the law, but I’ve seen far worse incidents go unpunished on a rugby field...
Stormers centre Shaun Treeby was no doubt lucky to not receive at least a yellow card for a high tackle in the second half. He was subsequently cited and banned for three weeks which he deserves.
There was, however, an incident just before half-time which most scribes forgot to mention post-game. A Blues player clearly went too high with a tackle, ironically on Treeby, and it definitely - in my opinion - warranted a card.
The referee didn’t refer the decision upstairs and simply awarded a penalty to the home side. Even when replays of the high hit were showed afterwards, TMO Veldsman did nothing to alert Van Heerden.
Veldsman was also in the spotlight when he awarded Stormers flank Sikhumbuzo Notshe a try late in the game - I felt this was the right call, there was no double movement and Notshe was just about on his feet when he picked the ball up before reaching out to score...
2. Cheetahs deserve to go down
It was another non-defensive effort from the Cheetahs as they conceded nine tries in a 61-7 drubbing at the hands of the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The Cheetahs have conceded 484 points and 65 tries in 12 games this season - the most for any side in the competition.
It seems they place no emphasis on defence and coach Franco Smith - who will soon join the Springboks ranks - must take the blame.
Based on what we’ve seen in the last few seasons, the Cheetahs deserve to be booted out of Super Rugby.
3. Combrinck back with a bang!
Springbok Ruan Combrinck was a late replacement at wing for the injured Sylvian Mahuza in the Lions’ 51-14 mauling of the Bulls at Ellis Park.
After recovering from a shoulder injury, Combrinck returned to action a few weeks ago for the Golden Lions in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge.
Any doubt that he wasn’t ready for the rigours of Super Rugby quickly evaporated as he scored a spectacular try after a minute’s action.
It was a dream comeback for Combrinck, who chipped over Jesse Kriel to gather and dot down in the corner.
He added another try later on and in all likelihood played himself into Springbok contention again.
4. Tactical error from Kings coach?
Southern Kings coach Deon Davids will wonder whether he made the correct decision in substituting captain and flyhalf Lionel Cronje during their 19-10 loss to the Brumbies in Port Elizabeth.
With the Kings leading 10-5 heading into the final quarter, Cronje - who didn't appear to be injured - was replaced by Pieter-Steyn de Wet.
I can't help but wonder whether Cronje's decision to not kick for posts at a vital stage played a part in him being substituted.
At the end of the third quarter, he turned down an easy three points that would have given his side a 13-5 lead. Cronje opted for a scrum and then conceded possession with a poor cross-kick.
He was replaced shortly afterwards, but newcomer De Wet did not cover himself in glory when he threw a loose pass which was intercepted and led to the Brumbies’ second try in the 64th minute.
In retrospect, taking off the Kings’ most instrumental player of the season was perhaps the wrong call by Davids.
5. End of the road for Bulls coach
Following the Bulls’ humiliating 51-14 loss to the Lions - their eighth of the season - Bulls coach Nollis Marais’ days are seemingly numbered.
A local newspaper reported on Sunday that the decision has already been made that Marais will be sacked.
Former coach Heyneke Meyer reportedly turned down an offer to help out at his former team, with Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan now seemingly the favourite.
Van Graan has been with the Boks since Meyer took over as coach in 2012 and also knows the Bulls structures well, having worked with Meyer while the latter was at the helm of the Pretoria franchise.
It was a bit concerning though to learn that Van Graan is the son of Bulls CEO Barend van Graan.
Let's hope nepotism does not play a part in the decision to appoint Johann van Graan, who has no experience as a head coach at this level.
Former All Black coach John Mitchell and Cheetahs coach Franco Smith are also believed to be on the shortlist.
However, I noted a well-known scribe point out over the weekend that the head coach of the Bulls cannot take sole blame for their current woes - the way things are run behind the scenes at Loftus Versfeld is seemingly not done as smoothly as in the past and a new head coach may find it tough starting his tenure paddling against the tide...