Conspiracy theories, throwing games and the unfair set-up of the Super Rugby system are the topics that have flown around with abandon this past weekend. But after all has been said and done the bones have been thrown and landed and now each of the eight teams know exactly what is required of them should they want to lift the trophy in three weeks’ time.
The Chiefs took care of business against an untested Brumbies side on Saturday. The Kiwi team did however struggle to find their groove and will have to up their game if they are to overcome the Stormers in Cape Town.
At Loftus the Stormers and Bulls entertained the fans royally with some good running rugby. Coach Robbie Fleck has entrusted the under 20 star, Damian Willemse with the pivot role of late. The youngster has shown plenty of promise but a knockout game against a Kiwi opponent will give us a better idea of the character he possesses at this early stage in his career. On Saturday he will be well tested by All Black, Aaron Cruden.
It promises to be an entertaining re-match after the Capetonians somewhat surprisingly defeated the Chiefs earlier in the season. Both teams enjoy an expansive style of play and the clash between the likes of Cheslin Kolbe and Dillyn Leyds against James Louw and Damian McKenzie is a mouth-watering one. Apart from the fireworks at the back two hard-as-nails men will lock horns in the form of Eben Etzebeth and Brodie Retallick in the pack. If all of that is not enough the fans in the stands will also be rather divided with plenty of Chiefs supporters in the Cape. Buckle up boys this promises to be a humdinger!
Many have moaned about the fact that the Stormers can count themselves lucky that they are hosting a quarterfinal but their privileges could be short lived as they will still have to navigate their way past a Kiwi side or two including a likely trip to Christchurch should they harbour hopes of sipping champagne at the end. The way things came out of the wash after all the various results of the weekend, the men from Hamilton were however the ones dealt a rather harsh fate. Should they wish to win the grand prize they would quite possible have to travel to New Zealand after a quarterfinal victory over the Stormers only to return back for the final should the Lions progress. Personally I reckon there is more chance of the Sunwolves winning next season’s Super Rugby than either the Stormers or Chiefs walking away with the trophy.
Despite missing Bauden Barrett and falling behind 12-0 the Hurricanes picked up an impressive victory over the Crusaders to ensure less travel for them this coming weekend. The Canes remain the one team who can topple any opponent when they fire on all cylinders and they proved this by handing the mighty Crusaders their very first loss of the season. The Crusaders would have been happy that they didn’t have to face Bauden but it was Jordie who proved a thorn in their side on the day.
The result in Wellington left the Hurricanes with a quarterfinal trip to Canberra to face the Brumbies.
This is hardly a terrifying prospect for the lethal Kiwi side and they must surely have one eye on a likely trip to the Republic to face the Lions in a semi-final which would indeed be one heck of a challenge for both sides.
The Crusaders will feel disappointed with having let a 12 point lead slip and in so doing incurring their very first loss of the season in their last regular season game. The loss also had a significant effect on the route which now waits for Scott Robertson’s chargers. Instead of preparing to host the Sharks they now have to account for fellow New Zealanders in the form of the Highlanders. Mr’s Smith (x2), Naholo, Fekitoa and Sopoaga will have their sights set on upsetting the applecart against their more fancied countrymen.
On Friday the Highlanders swotted away the Reds with relative ease. Unfortunately for the Landers their future was always going to be out of their own control coming into the final weekend of normal action. The men from the south were either looking at traveling to Johannesburg to face the rampant Lions or the Mordor-like trip to Christchurch. It is not often a team would prefer tackling the dragon in its lair but facing the Crusaders at home will arguably be the more acceptable outcome.
Lastly the Sharks and Lions tussled in a strange match in Durban. The Lions were far from their ruthless attacking selves and the Sharks lacked their normal intensity and vigour. Of course considering the fact that the Lions only needed a win whilst the home side victory would have been “rewarded” with a Christchurch trip it is perhaps no wonder that the game turned into the damp squid that it was. The Natalians would have looking forward to that trip like an eight year old does going to the dentist! Things are unlikely to be much more favourable for the Sharks at Ellispark. The Lions will be far hungrier on home turf and Robert du Preez’s men should be like fish out of water against the table toppers in full flight. As a friend warns – It will be all you can eat sushi in Johanneburg on Saturday.
The also-rans have been eliminated (okay yes there are still a few fortunate participants like the Brumbies) and now the real action starts. It has taken five months but now is not the time to vacate your couch spot, unless you are swopping it for one on the stands like this Critic intends doing.
My semi-final predictions:
Lions v Hurricanes
Crusaders v Chiefs
Enjoy the action!