Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after Round 19 of the 2018 Super Rugby competition:
1. Has rugby gone soft?
“The game’s gone soft.”
These words were uttered by Sunwolves captain Willie Britz following his side’s 48-27 loss to the Reds in Brisbane on Friday.
The contest was blighted when New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe sent off Sunwolves flank Ed Quirk for an apparent punch on Reds flyhalf Hamish Stewart.
Replays showed Quirk rubbing his closed fist into Stewart's face while the pair were at the bottom of the ruck.
Reds coach Brad Thorn had sympathy for the Sunwolves afterwards, saying: "I'm sitting there, I'm the opposite coach and straight away, I'm up there just going, that's no good. It just hurts the game.
“The five-eighth's at the bottom of the ruck, the forward gives him a little facial. Isn't that what you're supposed to do? Seriously. Come on, man. Come on. My sons do that in the backyard. It's beautiful. Good on them."
Many pundits have labelled the decision as ridiculous, but I have my reservations. Yes, we've seen worse incidents go unpunished, but I'd ask why did Quirk rub his fist in the face of another player?
SANZAAR officials found Quirk guilty of foul play on Monday and banned the player for two weeks.
View the incident in the Tweet below and make your own conclusions:
2. Dice rolling for Lions
The Waratahs’ 40-31 home loss early on Saturday opened the door for the Lions who beat the Bulls 38-12 later in the day.
The ‘Tahs only had to win at home to seal second spot on the overall log, but disappointed against the already-eliminated Brumbies.
The Lions subsequently claimed second spot which crucially means a home semi-final if they win their quarter-final against the Jaguares.
The Lions haven’t been as strong in 2018 as they were the previous two seasons but remain a formidable outfit at home and are now in with a real shot at making the final three years in a row.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin also feels luck is on their side, saying after the Bulls win: “In the team talk, I said everything is going our way and we need to use it. From last week, results have gone our way, so we have got to use it. I believe this is a blessed team and if we stick to what we are doing the results will come, and it happened today.”
3. Super Rugby log positions beggar belief
The completion of the round-robin phase of the competition again highlighted the unfairness of the Conference system.
The Lions finished second overall on 46 points, thanks to winning the SA Conference.
This is despite the fourth-placed Hurricanes (51 points) and fifth-placed Chiefs (49 points) boasting more log points than the men from Johannesburg.
The two Kiwi sides must now slug it out against each other in the quarter-finals in Wellington, while the third-placed Waratahs, winners of the Australian Conference, have a home playoff match against the Highlanders.
This is despite the Sydneysiders finishing with only 44 log points.
There’s no doubt that it’s an unfair system!
4. Bulls take SA wooden spoon
The Bulls started promisingly in their match against the Lions at Ellis Park, taking a 12-0 lead after 12 minutes.
But the Lions gradually clawed their way back and eventually proved way too classy for the Bulls.
What went somewhat under the radar is that the heavy defeat consigned the Bulls to the wooden spoon in the South African Conference.
They claimed the same number of wins (6) than the Stormers but finished bottom due to an inferior points differential.
What looked like a promising Bulls campaign earlier in the season turned into another mediocre season.
Coach John Mitchell received high praise throughout for changing the Bulls’ style but 12th position on the overall log is not going to bring the crowds back to Loftus Versfeld.
5. Tough to spot a fan at Kings Park
The lack of interest in Super Rugby was evident in Saturday’s Sharks v Jaguares clash in Durban.
The Sharks were playing for a playoffs spot, but the almost non-existent Kings Park crowd gave the impression that this was a match between two teams fighting to avoid the wooden spoon.
Yes, it was rainy conditions, but one would expect more from the Durban faithful for a match where a home victory took their team to the quarter-finals.
Gone are the days where rugby fans flocked to the stadiums for the business end of the Super Rugby season.
The tournament’s popularity is at an all-time low...