HEAR THE LIONS ROAR
Despite a moment of idiocy from Robbie Coetzee the Lions were able to get out of third gear in the second half and operate at as close to full speed as they transformed a 19-3 advantage into a comfortable 54-10 romp in the end. At times it seemed the Kings were the ones playing with a man (or two) less as the Lions were often able to break through their defence and run in rather soft looking tries, but in reality efforts that the Johannesburgers worked hard for in terms of slick handling and brilliant inter-play. In fairness the actual numerical advantage of the visitors was negated by the fact that Malcolm Marx and especially Kwagga Smith were everywhere on the park making runs and stealing balls – clearly not operating like two mere mortal men!
Whilst on the subject of the Lions the big news in this past week has been the Springbok squad selection. As per usual there were a number of “fortunate” selections (Hougaard, Steyn, Am, Chilliboy and Mahoje), a few unlucky losers (Francois Venter, Lionel Mapoe, Lionel Cronje, Faf de Klerk, Ox Nche, Jean-luc du Preez and Chris Cloete) and a couple of pleasant surprises such as Habana and JP finally being left to go peacefully into the night. Ruan Dreyer and Lize Gqoboka both getting the nod in the front row was music to the ears of this Critic as along with Marx they represent the future of SA rugby amongst the big boys up front. The backline is a bit of a worry for me with a lot of versatile players and a lack of specialist centres and flyhalf cover for Jantjies.
BUT by far the best news of this past week was the fact that Warren Whiteley has finally been penned in as the leader of the green and gold. Rightly there may still be doubters of his credentials as player at international level but I have a few comebacks to this. Firstly he has yet to be given an extended run at the top level. Secondly when he has played the team has been in a place where they haven’t had a clear identity. The balance of the side has also not been ideal as he preferably needs to be accompanied by a big physical number 7 rather than a Mahoje or Kolisi who play a bit looser. Then, lastly there are two aspects that cannot be overlooked for mind.
- There are not many alternative options as Springbok number eight who are knocking on the door at present and even if someone does come by one must remember that it is not a foreign concept for the skipper to not necessarily be the general public’s first choice in his position (i.e. John Smit and Francois Pienaar) if his leadership skills are of such high level that it can be warranted.
- On a personal front this Couch Critic just loves the infectious attitude he has for the game. He personifies what we all love about the game of rugby – a sportsman who plays with his heart on his sleeve, gives his all and seems to love every moment on the park. A true gentleman and superb ambassador for the game. Welcome aboard captain my captain!
Two local derbies played out on Friday and it delivered two surprise results. The Force showed that their victory over the Jaguares a fortnight ago was no fluke and that it was mostly the travel factor last week which saw them go belly-up against the Highlanders. The Reds for their part once again disappointed.
The Blues dealt the Chiefs a painful blow by keeping them to level pegging in an arm-wrestle in Auckland. Like with the Stormers clash the Blues faded late and were perhaps the ones more unhappy to have to settle for the draw.
SUSHI SATURDAY AND SHARKS RIDE OUT THE STORM
Many gave the Sunwolves a decent shot of beating the Cheetahs but the men from Bloemfontein were the ones who ran the Japs ragged on the day. The visitors built up a nice lead in the first half and then cut loose with five more tries in the second stint, including four in the final fifteen minutes, as their fearless running approach finally paid off in Tokyo. After a very tough tour of NZ this result would have helped to ease some of that pain for the Cheetahs.
The Waratahs pegged their hosts back in the opening half but once again a New Zealand side were ruthless on attack coming home in the last forty. The five try Highlander blitz in the second half comfortably sent the Tahs packing. Again there were flashes of what this Aussie side could potentially dish up (Folau’s form must be heart-warming for the at this stage probably grey and bald Wallaby selectors) but they lack discipline both on attack and defence.
In Melbourne the Rebels were expected to get their backsides handed to them on a platter. At the half time break waiters with silver platters must have been waiting for the home side (along with gallons of Powerade and plenty of Deep Heat) as their asses were indeed comprehensively handed to them to the tune of 31-7. Fortunately for the Rebels their physio was given a bit if a break by the visitors as the Crusaders hung up the gloves after the break, almost taking pity on their pummelled opponents it seemed, and held back on the beating.
Much like the match before it the Bulls were expected by many to be on the wrong side of a Hurricane hiding at Loftus on Saturday afternoon. There was relief for the home side by way of the late withdrawal of Bauden Barrett but this relief was short lived as the remaining Barrett broke through a very weak defensive effort to score the easiest of tries in the second minute of the game. This early try sent the alarm bells ringing for the Bulls but to their credit the home side showed a lot more commitment on attack this time around. It was still a worrying 4 tries to one at the break but fortunately for the hosts the usually precise and deadly Canes were feeling the travel and altitude factor leading to a scrappy second half effort from the defending champions.
In a proper South African tussle, also played in rainy conditions, this was never going to be a pretty exhibition of attacking flair. This game was all about winning the battle in the tight stuff and capitalising on chances when they come by. In both these aspects the Sharks held the advantage over their visitors. In a first half where they played beautifully to the conditions and flexed their muscles in terms of the power game the home team built up a comfortable 15-0 lead at the break. The Capetonians fought back valiantly in the second half as they upped the tempo of their game and looked to keep ball in hand more. Cheslin Kolbe started to look dangerous for the visitors but it was his direct opponent who supplied the key moment in the contest. Just after the hour mark a Sbu Nkosi try stretched the Sharks 12 points clear. From a set move off the lineout Nkosi cut into the line and proceeded to brush his marker aside with easy and cruise in for the crucial try. Apart from a number of top efforts in the pack (from the likes of Ruan Botha and the Du Preez twins) Nkosi had a standout showing on the night. The Stormers put up a plucky fight but the home side always seemed to have this one under control as the physically held the edge over their visitors from the opening whistle – an impressive show of power from the Sharks.