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Super Rugby learnings from Round 10

20 May 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld


The biggest takeaways from Round 14 of Super Rugby from a South African perspective, according to Quintin van Jaarsveld.

It took a superb tactical performance for the Bulls to break their three-year drought Down Under. Resolute, rush defence formed the foundation for the 32-17 breakthrough win in Melbourne.

Considering they leaked seven tries and were crushed 45-13 by the Crusaders at Loftus seven days prior, opting to employ a defence-driven tactic was bold, to say the least, and the men from Pretoria pulled it off perfectly. Will Genia was a marked man and endured a long 72 minutes before he gingerly made way for Michael Ruru. The big Bulls forwards trampled their counterparts at ruck time and hit the bullseye on the veteran Wallaby scrumhalf’s chest all night.

Through physical dominance, they cut the Rebels off at the source, and excellent line speed kept the hosts on the back foot. It was a brutal display of brains and brawn with moments of magic from Handre Pollard and Rosko Specman sprinkled in between.

It was clear from the kick-off that the Bulls were fiercely focused and that they were able to hold out an initial attacking onslaught of 15-plus phases was psychologically significant. They gained an even greater mental edge when Pollard sliced through to put them up 14-7 in the 17th minute – with just 19 percent possession.

The Bulls led 17-12 at half-time having had just 28 percent of the pill, and ultimately, they had just 39 percent possession when the final whistle went – a harrowing stat for the hosts. Another tactical shift, which saw them turn down an easy three points when they were down 7-0 early on, also paid off with Pollard finding Cornal Hendricks with a crosskick for a momentum-building try.

That the Bulls finished the stronger of the sides, scoring 15 unanswered points after their massive defensive display, put an exclamation point on a well-planned and executed siege.

In his timeless classic, Frank Sinatra famously sings, “I did it my way” – and Saturday’s epic at Ellis Park was another example of the Lions doing it their way.

The Lions live and die by their brand of ball-in-hand rugby and for 78 minutes, their fate hung in the balance before Aphiwe Dyantyi broke free and linked up with fellow flyer Courtnall Skosan to finally sew up the result.

Their thrilling 38-26 win was a typical Lions rollercoaster ride, with plenty of exhilarating highs and frustrating lows, which really encapsulated the enigmatic nature of the Johannesburg team.

The Lions have boldly blazed their own trail in recent years, ditching the traditional way in which the game is played in South Africa – with a high premium on physicality and low-risk, percentage rugby – in favour of a more expansive style synonymous with New Zealand sides.

It’s a refreshing approach in the Republic and one that’s made them South Africa’s flag bearers and Super Rugby runners-up over the past three seasons. The Lions haven’t enjoyed the same success this season, mostly due to the loss of several stars to overseas clubs, but they’re sticking to their guns for better or worse, as they showed on Saturday, making most of the play with 61 percent possession.

A marked improvement on the one-point win over the Waratahs, the Lions were in vintage form against the Highlanders, forcing the visitors into a high-paced Highveld battle, despite the visitors’ best efforts to slow things down. The hosts were hungry up front and scored some spectacular tries, but also kept the ‘Landers in the game with overzealousness.

Two of the Highlanders’ tries (the first and third) were the result of the Lions trying to run from inside their 22, something they’ve been guilty of for quite some time. This is largely why they had just the slender two-point lead with two minutes remaining. They’re yet to master of the art of attacking rugby, but it deservedly got them over the line in thrilling fashion on Saturday.

I won’t delve too much into the two biggest talking points coming out of the Cape thriller. What I will say, is that it’s unfortunate that TMO Marius Jonker interjected with an incorrect call, which effectively cost the Crusaders the win. Braydon Ennor’s pass went backwards out of his hands and, therefore, Sevu Reece’s try should’ve stood.

Siya Kolisi’s decision to kick at goal and settle for a 19-all draw at the death was also perplexing, not to mention an anticlimactic conclusion to the captivating clash. The Stormers only gained one log point – two for the draw rather than a losing bonus point – so the reward of pursuing a match-winning try would’ve been worth the risk, especially given they’re at the bottom of the South African Conference.

My focus, rather, is on an even bigger issue. As if South African rugby supporters needed reminding, it was cemented on Saturday that the Crusaders are the kings of Cape Town. Newlands has long been the political playground of South African rugby, with wounds of the Apartheid era scratched open whenever the Crusaders and/or All Blacks come to town.

The ‘Cape Crusaders’ were out in full force, making for the biggest Newlands crowd in quite some time – 27 653 to be exact. The ‘Saders were treated like homecoming heroes throughout the week and were welcomed on to the park as such, while the Stormers received a more subdued welcome from the ‘Newlands Faithful’.

Supporters, of course, have the right to cheer for whomever they want. It’s ironic, though, and probably heart-breaking for the players, that on the day that the Stormers played perhaps their best rugby of the season, they were virtually booed out of their own stadium. It was a truly bizarre scene when Josh Stander was loudly jeered when he lined up – and missed – a kick at goal in the 47th minute, the most audible of the bellowing boos the ‘Cape Crusaders’ rained down during the course of the contest.

For the Stormers, it may have been a draw on the scoreboard, but it was a loss in the stands – a hurtful reality that will rub salt in the wounds of the likes of skipper Siya Kolisi and Man of the Match Pieter-Steph du Toit, who put their bodies on the line with Test match intensity.

BET: Super Rugby 2019

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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