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Super Rugby learnings from a dark weekend for SA teams.

Super Rugby Bulls Duane Vermeulen

04 March 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld


The biggest takeaways from the third round of Super Rugby from a South African perspective, according to Quintin van Jaarsveld.

After the disappointing defeat to the Jaguares, the men from Pretoria set the record straight with a dominant display against the Lions. Lessons were clearly learned, as they turned a negative into a positive with a tactical destruction of their neighbours. The complete 180, after having been tactically outplayed in Buenos Aires, was a bold statement by the Bulls.

They dominated territory and possession and, had they taken all their opportunities, the scoreline would’ve more closely resembled that of the Stormers smashing in Round 1.

The Lions had won their last 14 home games against South African opposition, last losing at Airline Emirates Park in February 2015, when they were beaten by the Stormers. Handre Pollard’s Bulls snapped the streak with brutal poise, and they made it look easy.

Both Pollard and his halfback partner Embrose Papier were on point with their tactical kicking, the flyers chased fantastically and the Lions simply had no answers. The Bulls bullied the hosts in the trenches, yet also showed touches of flair – it wasn’t ‘stampkar’ rugby by any means.

Schalk Brits was sensational, and what aided his awesomeness were the big support runners on his inside and outside, who did important work to combat defenders trying to hold the diminutive dynamo up in contact.

A perfect way to bounce back.

Serious soul-searching will have to be done by this pride of Lions, who seem to have lost their roar – that vigour and x-factor that took them to three straight finals. The exodus of top stars over the past two years has now seemingly caught up with the Johannesburg side, a proud team who’ll be absolutely gutted at being embarrassed at home.

Last week’s horror show lingered on, especially in the scoreless first half, and they looked stranded in quicksand for most of the match. Some may point to the absence of Warren Whiteley, and while the Bok No. 8 is certainly an instrumental figure in the Lions’ composition, captaincy’s not the issue.

Three rounds in, the Lions haven’t shown any sign of the attacking flair they’ve build their success on. They’ve been content to let play come to them, bank on their defence to hold firm and feed off turnovers. It worked against the Jaguares, but the historic first-round win on Argentinean soil feels a long, long time ago.

There were some signs of life. Committed defence limited the Bulls to just six points before Duane Vermeulen barged over in the 29th minute, most of which they spent under siege. The trademark fighting spirit was there, and they scored from their first real attacking opportunity shortly after the interval.

Still, it was a brutal, hard-wrenching home loss for Malcolm Marx and his men.

Kudos to the Cape side for a remarkable result after a tumultuous two weeks. Sure, they showed heart to stay in the game and ultimately snatch a fortuitous win over the Lions after having been blown out by the Bulls, but nothing suggested the Stormers had a shot against an unbeaten Sharks side in Durban.

The upset, fully deserved and hard-earned, was largely due to Springbok brutes Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit. The dynamic duo, two of if not the best players in the world in their respective roles, took the struggling Stormers to another level with their prolific performances.

With Etzebeth back, the Stormers had their mongrel back, and the lineout suddenly ran like clockwork again. Etzebeth, along with impressive second row partner JD Schickerling, shut down this key component of the Sharks’ game plan, while Du Toit was like Predator around the park.

Skipper Siya Kolisi was another who stood up and inspired those around him. Despite all the negativity – the sorry financial state of the union, the battles in the boardroom and that thumping at Loftus – the Stormers on Saturday showed what they’re made of.

The beleaguered Stormers blew into Durban and basically provided a blueprint for how to beat the Sharks. The hosts were completely thrown off by the in-your-face defence of the visitors. Their line speed and aggressiveness were doubly effective as it kept the Sharks behind the gainline and robbed them of rhythm from the get-go.

This was clear to see as runners had to reach back to collect passes that had been in the breadbasket in the first two rounds time and time again, leaving them flatfooted and more like sitting ducks than Sharks or Black Panthers.

Sbu Nkosi’s bizarre kick over the dead ball line in the 33rd minute summed up a diabolical first half for the hosts, whose frustration boiled over into two yellow cards.

Discipline was a big issue throughout, a string of offside infringements particularly unacceptable, and they were outworked in the set pieces and driving mauls, outworked being the key work, as the Stormers seemed to want it more.

That they were in it until the end was a positive (one that perhaps wouldn’t be there had SP Marais not have had an off day with the boot), but they’ll know they’ll have to front up physically and can ill afford slow starts moving forward.

BET: Super Rugby 2019

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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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