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    Stormers, Lions stop to lick wounds

    2016-05-01 09:37

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – A fortnight to get things right.

    That’s one blessing the Stormers and Lions, their egos dented by damaging home losses on Saturday to Australasian foes, have before they are next in action again in Vodacom Super Rugby.

    The leaders of the two Africa-branded conferences get the relative reprieve of byes next weekend – although relative only in the sense that it will allow for some timely introspection.

    A downside of the week off is that their respective nearest domestic rivals, the Bulls and Sharks, get a glorious opportunity to either make up further ground or – in the case of the Bulls – actually move ahead on log points.

    That is all because the Stormers crashed 32-30 to the Waratahs in a debate-laden Newlands nail-biter, and just a little earlier the Jo’burgers were pulverised 50-17 by a class-oozing Hurricanes outfit at Emirates Airline Park.

    Adriaan Strauss’s team, already one resounding tour victory to the good in Perth on Friday, need only a losing bonus point against the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday to draw level on points with the Capetonians at the top of Africa Conference 1 and they are sure to be targeting a bit more than that.

    The Lions’ mauling – both they and the Stormers have now lost three of nine games and two each at home – was beneficial to the Sharks who made up one point on them through a losing bonus point in their own 24-22 reverse to the Chiefs on a gory weekend for the South African title “challenge” which featured five losses for the six domestic franchises.

    As acting captain Keegan Daniel pointed out after their narrow setback, the Sharks did eventually secure six log points (one win, two losing points) out of 15 from a really tough New Zealand trek, which is a bit better than a kick in the teeth.

    It leaves them now only five points behind the Lions from the same number of games, and well aware that there could be mental scars for Johan Ackermann’s charges after the tsunami that hit them in the Big Smoke.

    Nevertheless, it is now the task of the Sharks, straight off a long-haul flight, to have to try to arrest the Hurricanes’ enjoyment of the SA landscape – the ever-attacking side from Wellington have won three in a row on these shores if you add in last season’s victories in both Johannesburg and Pretoria.

    The Stormers arguably have less reason to be hard on themselves for their defeat than the Lions do; in many respects they were their own worst enemies for fatal lapses in concentration and structure after doing enough in other departments to have engineered a win over the 2014 champions.

    They are certainly maturing and becoming more multi-dimensional under Robbie Fleck’s tutelage, and are both good and smart enough to bounce back spiritedly from the last-ditch setback at Newlands, even if really favourable seedings for the knockout phase have become less likely for them and their various compatriots still in the running as well – the NZ challenge reigns hugely supreme right now.

    An obvious, major turning point in a thrilling encounter was the red-carding of Stormers wing Leolin Zas in the third quarter for a dangerous aerial challenge on Bernard Foley which saw the Waratahs flyhalf land nastily on his head and shoulder.

    As with the Jason Emery-Willie le Roux incident a week earlier, there did not appear to be outright malice in Zas’s actions, and the offending player also seemed to slip as they collided – yet to letter of law, referee Mike Fraser was in his rights to take the extreme course of action.

    Still, it has re-opened lively debate about the fairness or otherwise of what highly experienced former SA Test referee Jonathan Kaplan called on Twitter “outcome-based solutions”.

    Kaplan has added that he feels there are too many “process-driven referees” and a declining number of those with a real “feel” for the game – it seemed a hint that yellow might have been a more fitting punishment.

    Be that as it may, the true game-swayer was a massively inconvenient, unexpected late concession of a tighthead heel from a defensive scrum by the Stormers, which gave Michael Hooper his opportunity to squeeze over for the winning try.

    The defeat would have been a gut-wrencher for several members of a home-town pack – Frans Malherbe, Nizaam Carr and the Elstadt-Du Toit lock alliance come quickly to mind -- which had put in a largely yeoman, dominant shift, and it is defensive shortcomings in wider positions that require more urgent addressing …

    *Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):

    Friday: Crusaders v Reds, 09:35; Brumbies v Bulls, 11:45. Saturday: Sunwolves v Force, 07:15; Chiefs v Highlanders, 09:35; Waratahs v Cheetahs, 11:45; Sharks v Hurricanes, 15:00; Kings v Blues, 17:10. Byes: Lions, Stormers, Jaguares, Rebels.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Fixtures

    Saturday, 17 February 2018
    • Stormers v Jaguares, Cape Town 15:05
    • Lions v Sharks, Emirates Airlines Park 17:15
    Friday, 23 February 2018
    • Highlanders v Blues, 08:35
    • Rebels v Reds, AAMI Park 10:45
    Saturday, 24 February 2018
    • Sunwolves v Brumbies, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium 06:15
    • Crusaders v Chiefs, 08:35
    • Waratahs v Stormers, Allianz Stadium 10:45
    • Lions v Jaguares, Emirates Airlines Park 15:05
    • Bulls v Hurricanes, Loftus Versfeld 17:15

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