Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The
Lions’ was the first result of the latest South African weekend of activity in
Super Rugby … and it stayed the best one right to the last.
virtually beyond dispute: their unexpectedly clear-cut 29-0 thumping of the
previously in-form Waratahs on Friday eclipsed the Bulls’ 28-10 disposal of the
Rebels at Loftus a day later, and also the Sharks’ much tighter 24-17 derby
triumph in Durban over the similarly fragile Stormers.
Bulls, who played some wonderful rugby in patches, emulated the Lions by
winning with a bonus point against their Australian foes, the side from
Johannesburg maintained a significant gap at the top of the SA conference.
currently sport 30 points from nine matches, with the second-placed Bulls now
on 19 from eight.
It is still
good breathing space to have, although things get more interesting if the Lions
crash to the Reds in Brisbane next Saturday and John Mitchell’s charges, again
playing before the Pretoria faithful, see off the Highlanders.
one reason why the Lions must stay firmly focused on ensuring no slip-up
against a Reds outfit who shape up as their softest tour opposition on paper.
Queenslanders are on a losing streak of four matches since their last success,
which was a minor upset (18-7) of the Jaguares in Buenos Aires back on March
they have lost to the Stormers at Newlands (25-19), Brumbies in Canberra
(45-21), Waratahs in Sydney (37-16) and in the latest round were well beaten
36-12 by the Chiefs in Brisbane.
the Lions are picking up steam again, bearing in mind that Friday’s wonderful
result – it is not every day that a South African team keeps an Australasian
team blank on their own turf – came on top of a 52-31 roasting of the Stormers
in their last outing.
success was hugely important, not only for keeping a still-formidable chasing
pack (mostly NZ sides) narrowly at bay as Swys de Bruin’s side clicked into top
spot overall, but for effectively being a “10-point-swing” affair over the ‘Tahs.
do remain the premier team in the Aussie conference (they have 24 points from
eight games), but there is now that bit less risk that they will end ordinary
season with more points than the Lions – assuming they remain the best SA side
– and possibly steal one of the home semi-final-rights tickets from them.
the Lions are likely to be branded bookies’ favourites to beat the Reds, given
respective, differing form, and the fact that in last season’s equivalent
meeting – at Emirates Airline Park – the hosts romped to a 44-14 win (four
tries to Courtnall Skosan, still absent this season through injury although not
too hugely missed at left wing thus far).
the Bulls, who continue to ride a generally upward curve under Mitchell’s
diligent tutelage, have an arguably tougher assignment, despite the advantage
of Highveld conditions, when the Highlanders come to Pretoria.
they lie a deceptive sixth overall, the men from Dunedin have played fewer
games than most teams (seven) but are only six points off the Lions, for
example, with two in hand.
circumstances, it is difficult to know what outcome the Lions might prefer at
Loftus: should they be more concerned with their conference, or the overall
situation? Probably the latter, at this point.
showed off some beautiful, creative touches from set moves and in broken play
against the Rebels, but also exited from their own quarter rather too
dangerously and over-elaborately, had some issues at the breakdown, and went
off the boil mentally at times.
closing game on SA soil, the all-coastal clash at Kings Park, really only
underlined how lacking in real confidence or pizzazz both the Sharks and
overwhelmingly turgid first half ensued, as they nervously felt each other out,
and former Springbok coach Nick Mallett, the SuperSport analyst, lamented some
of the “kicking tennis” as possession was too often hoofed aimlessly back from
team’s grasp to the other.
the second period livened up a great deal, and some easy-on-the-eye tries were
registered; manna from heaven for another disappointingly sparse crowd.
were fairly good value overall for the victory – their opponents remain without
an away triumph in six attempts – and did manage on this occasion to bring some
of their outside backs into the game more than usual: players like Lukhanyo Am,
Makazole Mapimpi and S’bu Nkosi revelled as a result.
Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams
first, all kick-offs SA time):
v Sunwolves, 09:35; Stormers v Rebels, 15:05. Saturday: Reds v Lions, 07:05;
Blues v Jaguares, 09:35; Brumbies v Crusaders, 11:45; Bulls v Highlanders,
17:15. Byes: Sharks, Waratahs, Chiefs.
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