Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
were left feeling just a little like a "Liverpool" as they greatly tightened
their grip on the South African conference of Super Rugby on Saturday ...
immediately ahead of the tournament’s suspension and uncertain future in 2020.
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While the overall
quality of their Kings Park derby against the Stormers left a lot to be desired - a pretty common pattern when these two meet - Sean Everitt’s charges were
full value for the 24-14 triumph.
their supremacy in the group to a clear-cut seven points over the Capetonians,
even if the Stormers have a game in hand.
Yet it is
already obvious that it will take some doing, when or if competition resumes,
for the Sharks - also a point clear of defending champions the Crusaders
overall, though again from one extra match - to be hauled in as masters of the conference,
whether by the Stormers or Jaguares.
sense, they will now have at least part of the sort of anxiety prevalent at
Anfield in soccer’s English Premiership, where the Reds boast a particularly
gaping lead over any challengers and were desperately close to securing the
title unusually early - before the global coronavirus crisis struck.
miracle of some magnitude, you can already write off any likelihood of the two
Highveld teams, the Lions and Bulls, dramatically becoming a threat among the
five sides in the group.
to putrid one-from-six records after the latest round, following respective heavy
defeats to the Blues (Auckland) and Reds (Brisbane).
Lions were especially comprehensively trounced by the New Zealand side earlier
on Saturday (43-10), the men from Loftus began their tour - which now comes to
a sharp halt after only one fixture - in a flurry of attacking majesty against
their Aussie hosts, opening up a 17-0 lead early on through three attractive
then lost the plot lamentably, leaking a deflating 41 points without any
further reply to end with tails between legs all over again.
so far, the pair will be also-rans in 2020, whether combat resumes or not.
are still at the races despite successive defeats, courtesy of their all-wins record
from the first four outings.
Yet there is
an unmistakably mounting sense that they simply won’t have the pedigree and
breadth of gameplan - again - to be serious title challengers.
generally stout defence and traditional levels of broad grunt, they offered
very little to the Durban date in constructive rugby terms, although strapping
young No 8 Juarno “Trokkie” Augustus had a key hand in both Stormers tries and
shone in other capacities, into the bargain.
expected beforehand to play second fiddle in set-piece terms, did more than
hold their own in those areas, and that went a long way to ensuring their guests
spent long passages firmly on the back foot - the KwaZulu-Natalians commanded
roughly two thirds of both possession and territory and were smarter and more
“swarming” at the breakdown.
the Stormers were extremely fortunate to see flanker Johan du Toit get away
with only a yellow card straight from the clash’s kick-off when he recklessly
played Sharks scrumhalf Louis Schreuder in the air.
TALKING POINT | Did Stormers flank deserve red?
No 9, once on the books at Newlands, landed on the back on his shoulders and
had a significant head whiplash in contact with the deck, too, meaning that he
was stretchered off - though fortunately concussion was the apparent limit of
Jacobs appeared to differ with television match official Willie Vos, who was
urging a more comprehensive sending-off for Du Toit.
being outfoxed on the day anyway, the Stormers suffered a significant injury tally
which might have had grave repercussions had they been pressing on over the
next few weeks, rather than taking this break of worrisomely unknown duration.
Jean-Luc du Plessis left the park in pain after a heavy but legal hit from
Sharks midfield bomber Andre Esterhuizen, Springbok scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies
did not reappear after half-time with rumours of some sort of fracture, and late
in the game another big Test figure, loose-head prop and skipper Steven
Kitshoff, also quit the action nursing what might be a torn pectoral muscle.
contrast, the Sharks (currently with only one blemish from seven outings) have
done extremely well to get to this juncture - one more week of activity at home
to the Chiefs and they would have had an overdue first bye - with a pretty low
It is just
one further reason to strongly suspect they will remain the country’s overwhelmingly
premier hope of title glory in the event that the ravages of the global
pandemic come to a merciful halt any time soon ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing