The weekend got off to a brilliant start as the monstrous Moala lead the Blues’ charge in Christchurch. The visitors built up a 24-5 lead after more than 50 minutes of play but apparently this cat still hasn’t used up its nine lives as the Crusaders yet again refused to accept defeat and miraculously pulled off their third straight come-from-behind victory.
The Crusaders are not the only Kiwi side to use the late get-out-of-jail card. The Chiefs were nowhere near their best in Melbourne yet were able to dig deep and run in two tries in the final five minutes to walk away with the expected bonus-point victory despite the scores reading 14-14 with ten minutes to go in the game.
And then there was the Sharks… Jeez what a shit-show! After taking many a pat on the back for their heroic efforts against the Brumbies and an impressive home victory over the Waratahs the same hands clapping in celebration for their performance last week were employed to pull hairs out of heads in frustration this week. There was little to be seen of the expected ruthless Shark attack and instead toothless tuna flopped around Growthpoint Kingspark. The Sharks’ effort was error ridden and passionless and had the Kings been a touch more princely than pauper the Natalians would have been left licking their wounds after what would have been a very humiliating defeat. In the end the usually deadly accurate boot of Lionel Cronje missed its target with two minutes to play and the hosts were able wriggle off the hook.
THE BRAIN FADE
Steve Smith, the Aussie cricket captain was recently very quick to use this term. But let’s call a spade a spade Steve – the men from Down Under never have brain fades, they have a natural propensity to operating right on the line of legality (often a little way below it!). There was however a few rugby players who certainly experienced a brain fade this past weekend. On Friday evening Handre Pollard, Ranoldo Bothma and Jason Jenkins battled it out for poephol of the week as all three experienced moments of madness against the Sunwolves. The Bulls struggled to find their attacking groove in the opening half and with the score at 17-9 Pollard missed a simple opportunity to extend his team’s lead to 11 points less than five minutes before the break. But the Springbok flyhalf’s real brain fade was yet to come. After fighting off a strong Japanese attack in the dying minutes of the first half the home team were offered the reprieve of a relieving penalty. Despicably the pivot missed touch and three passes later the Sunwolves were enjoying their oranges only one point adrift of their hosts. Bothma experienced a red-mist moment as he got over-zealous from the kick-off of the second stint, hitting the attacker with a recklessly high shot and earning himself a permanent send off. Jenkins for his part lost the ball over the line when he hardly had a defender within touching distance.
Ironically the Bulls played their best stint of rugby shortly after losing a man. The Japs were expected to run out of gas on the Highveld but instead it was the Bulls who worryingly seemed out of puff and saw the Asians finish strong and deny the South Africans a bonus point victory. With Pretoria being hundreds of kilometers away from the coast it should perhaps not have come as such of a surprise that the Bulls didn’t exactly overindulge on sushi as most expected of them. Yet with a trip to the land of the long white cloud waiting Nollis Marais’ young calves will have to find a few extra gears or the Kiwis will be licking their lips at the prospect of feasting on prime South African beef.
The final brain fade of the weekend came from yours truly. Why on earth a sane rugby watching human being would back the Waratahs to win a match is beyond me! I must not have been sober when I made that pick on Superbru… There is zero passion and commitment to their play and despite quite a lot of talent on paper they are terrible out on the green stuff at this early stage of the season. 2017 could become a very long year for the Tahs if their attitude doesn’t change very quickly.
The Lions seem to be slowly finding their roar. There were still errors aplenty from the Gauteng side but the Lions remain the one South African side who excites as they create chances almost at will every time the ball is flung out to their dangerous back division. Not that their forward ranks aren’t equally lethal. In fact it is something which needs to be emphasised more one feels. Yes the likes of Rohan Janse van Rensburg are fantastic with ball in hand but he is given the platform to perform by a seriously strong pack of Lions’ forwards. Ruan Dryer had an immense game and Malcolm Marx and Jaco Kriel probably match some of the backs in terms of their explosiveness with ball in hand. The scrambling defense of the home side was also much improved from previous efforts thus far this season.
Coach, Franco Smith sent an under-strength team to Buenos Aires part due to injuries and partly due to the South African tactic of saving the sea legs (or rather air miles) of a few of their star players. The young Cheetahs were not up to the challenge of containing the free running Jaguares. The fast paced running game of the Argentines proved too much for the Free Staters to handle.
After coming up short against the Chiefs in week 3 the Hurricanes looked back to their dangerous selves against the Highlanders in Wellington. The visitors put up a good fight for the first hour but the champs were mostly sharp, precise and lethal. The Landers were seriously under powered due to injuries and this took its toll when the full force of the Canes was on display in the final twenty minutes of the game. This Hurricane performance goes a long way to show that the defending champions are still the team to beat in 2017.