This couch critic called the Crusaders, Lions, Hurricanes and Chiefs to be the semi-finalists. What I wasn’t expecting was that the Lions would be the team to have the toughest time getting past a motivated Sharks outfit.
Elton Jantjies is a man of extremes – he is prodigiously talented but often very good on the day or very bad (the last few seasons it has been much more of the former). On Saturday Jantjies was poor. He didn’t find his stride in terms of tactically controlling the game and his goal kicking was shocking. The visitors for their part were up for the challenge of upsetting the table toppers. The Sharks played with passion and commitment eclipsing anything we’ve seen from them thus far this season as Lions couldn’t get in their attacking groove in the first half, this was largely down to the Natalians stifling them with in your face aggression on defence.
I was concerned that the usual high tempo, high risk game of the Joburgers would came back to bite them in play off rugby. In the shape of an interception from a rushed quick lineout this proved to be the case early doors. But coach Ackermann is adamant that his chargers stick to what they know and believe in and we saw the other side of this same coin as an opportunistic quick-tap penalty from Harold Vorster put Lionel Mapoe away for a crucial try. One waits to see whether this approach will see them shipping champagne in ultimate celebration or reaching for the stronger stuff in sorrow in the end. Either way it is much more of a seat on a rollercoaster than a relaxed view from the lazyboy when watching the Lions in action.
Supporters of the Sharks were up in arms about a late penalty which could and possibly should have gone their way but regardless of the commitment and intensity shown by the visitors the Lions just had too much fire power on attack. The home side ran in three unanswered tries after the turnaround in a 20 minute stint where they showed the difference in attacking quality between the two teams. More on the Sharks later in this piece.
As expected the Hurricanes just had too much quality and class for the Brumbies. The Aussies put up a good scrap but in the end these Kiwi sides make it count when they get an opportunity and the Canes were once again very good at this. The Lions will certainly be well tested by a Hurricane side who play a similar game to them and will know that mistakes against the Wellington men will be harshly punished.
It was more of a swimming gala than a rugby game in Christchurch on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Highlanders it seemed they were up against the Olympic freak, Michael Phelps on the night. Despite conditions making it a lot less of a spectacle this clash was very much worth the watch. The home side were sublime in terms of their game awareness, strategy and tactics.
In a perfect blue print of how to play in wet conditions the forwards of the Crusaders dominated the wrestling match upfront and the backline players all utilised the boot to tactical perfection. It might not have been pretty but how the Crusaders were able to adapt their game to the conditions was mightily impressive. A Chiefs side back from a visit to the Republic will have a hard time laying siege on fortress AMI.
In Capetown it was a proper arm-wrestle but in the end the experience of the Chiefs won through. It was not pretty to watch but it was hotly contested. The Stormers fronted up to the physical challenge but in the end they were just a bit more tactically naïve than their opponent from New Zealand. Despite a few of these Stormers heading abroad the Capetonians still have a good young core of players who will be better for the experience of hosting the Chiefs in a knockout clash.
My weekly PMS moan is directed at the Sharks this time around. Post-match social media was rife with people bemoaning the performance of the referee and in particular with not getting a penalty in the dying seconds. Sharks coach, Robert du Preez blitzed his way through the after-match presser bitterly disappointed with the performance of the ref. This critic reckons it’s a bitch rich for the Sharks to get on their high horse.
Firstly the Durbanites were only really in the contest due to the erring boot of Elton Jantjies. Secondly a struggling Lions team were still able to out-score the men in black by three tries to 2 (of these one came from an intercept as well). Then there was the fact that the Sharks could rather have looked to themselves to apportion blame. Lwazi Mvovo (playing out of position) went for the absurd option of trying to run a kicked ball back with 3 minutes left to play in the crunch contest and his team leading by a single point. He lost the ball and then proceeded to concede the match deciding penalty as well. Etienne Oosthuizen also had his customary negative impact by impeding a would-be Lions defender and in so doing cancelled out a Sharks try. Thus Du Preez would do well to take an internal look at his own team rather than looking for a scapegoat.
Lastly let’s be quite frank about this; the Sharks faithful might have been red in the face with anger after the match but they would have turned pink from embarrassment by the Hurricanes as the Kiwis are in a different league at present. The Canes would have had a field day – in wet or dry – against the KZN franchise and it would without a doubt have been a waste of a plane trip.
Finishing off my Monday moan session I saw a few ex-Shark players and men involved with management and development at the union get on the band-wagon of how the Sharks were “robbed”. My advice to the Shark suit wearers would be to focus their energy on ensuring the union keep as many of the talented crop of Craven Week players at the Sharks as possible. In the past the men form this part of the country have made same howlers in the transfer market – notable ones the last few seasons have been established internationals like Matt Stevens and Clement Poitrenaud who both took big cheques but brought little for that investment.
This critic feels they should have started to turn their focus inward rather than outward in terms of player scouting a long time ago. Quality schools like Hilton, Michaelhouse, Martizburg, Glenwood, DHS, etc. produce top talent on an annual basis. One would have thought that the Sharks would have figured out some way of keeping more of these young stars in their region by now. Gary Teichmann and his brains trust need to find a viable solution to the problem of young talent drain in their midst. Come on guys – take the time effort and money to develop your local young talent rather than looking for quick-fix solutions form over the hill fading stars.
Happy hunting to the Lions this coming Saturday!