DELECTABLE DISPLAY OF SUPER RUGBY
In 2007 I was supporting the Sharks form the comfort of my couch. The delight of Albert van den Berg’s “match winning” score was followed by the sheer gut wrenching sight of Bryan Habana crossing the whitewash to transform my jubilance into heartache and sorrow. Add to this main course the sides of a staunch SA cricket supporter, who has endured the one world cup failure after the other, and a few miss fortunes of the Big Easy on the back nine of a major (Ernie Els has had this irritating habit of coming unstuck late on a Sunday). Follow this main meal up with an F1 fan in the 1990’s who despised Schumacher and finish the dessert off with sprinkles on top in the form of witnessing club legend, John Terry do the Chelsea choke in the 2008 Champions League Final… Trust me this sports connoisseur has tasted his fair share of disappointment.
Due to the above I have tried to distance myself from this emotional buy-in with regard to a particular team or sportsman and rather look to enjoy the specific sport as a whole (okay in reality I rather have a bet and now shout and scream at my pick rather than my idol). Regardless of not having much of a personal interest in the Lions and Hurricanes semi-final there was just no way of not becoming emotionally involved – my mostly neutral, numb approach flew out the door and I was left more excited than a teenager at a strip club by what went down at Ellis Park!
It was always my fear that the men from Joburg know only one way: all-out attack. This approach put them under pressure against the Sharks the week before and once again led to the Kiwi visitors being given two opportunities on a plate due to the over zealousness of the fearless young Lions side. A dropped ball kicked through for a soft score and an easy run-in after an ill-advised quick tap penalty were examples of the home side being their own worst enemy and playing into the hands of the skillful Canes.
Thankfully the inspirational Ackermann was able to get his troops back in line at the break. Instead of just flinging the ball out the back at every opportunity there was some clever tactical kicking implemented and the forwards started keeping more of the ball for themselves. The driving maul proved tough to stop for the men in yellow and men like Mostert, Marx and Kwagga Smith gave the New Zealanders a torrid time as they adjusted to attacking through the middle and around the fringes of the ruck before giving the ball air.
The change of approach worked a treat and the tiring Hurricanes saw the match wrestled away from them by a ruthless second half showing from the home side. Even this slightly numbed sports fan was up and out of his seat with every scintillating Lions try as we witnessed one of the most memorable come back efforts of our time.
A CRUSADER CLINIC IN CHRISTCHURCH
Before all of the Ellis Park excitement there was another titanic battle in Christchurch. The Crusaders were favoured to get the job done but it was the visiting Chiefs who did all of the playing in the first half. Impeccable defence by the home side saw them enjoy a rather surprising half time lead as they were comprehensively overshadowed in terms of territory and possession in the opening forty.
The Saders saw a bit more of the ball in the second half and it didn’t take them long to find their groove after that. As champion sides do they were clinical in finishing the opportunities when they came their way. This match was won by the incredible defensive effort of Scott Robertson’s side but once again the home side showed their ability to adjust to a situation and do what needed to be done to get what was a rather convincing victory in the end.
These particular Kiwi team have a combative pack of forwards and an immaculate defence. They have some cool, experienced warriors in Read, Whitelock, Todd, Crotty and Dagg and then they have young talent who have belied their age and experience in the form David Havili and Richie Mo’unga. Let’s make something very clear right now – had the final been played in Christchurch there is no doubt in my mind that a brave, adventurous Lions outfit would have been found well short against this incredible unit.
Going back and watching Currie Cup rugby after the two sublime Super Rugby games we had this weekend is like switching back to you student skedonk after driving you dad’s BMW, or going back to your worker class KIA after test driving the latest luxury SUV on the market – it just leaves you thoroughly disappointed and rather depressed with the state of your life (or in this case the state of rugby in the country).
Watching the Sharks XI and Pumas potter about gave me that cringe you get when your gearbox slips a gear and it loudly tells you that this is not where the gearshift is supposed to go. Like having to downshift to second to get up the hill in your 800cc Chevi Spark the match left this critic very much pining for the good life where Super Rugby brought proper horsepower.
The Griquas valiantly tried to stick with the Lions in a game of touch but ultimately the hosts were able to score one more time than their visitors in a game where it seemed neither team had the foggiest idea that tackling was indeed and allowed (and would have been greatly appreciated).
Fortunately the likes of Rosco Specman at times had you looking up from the Sunday paper. In fact the Cheetahs are the one side in the competition who make your feel that this budget sedan could just have some potential. It might not be ready to compete in F1 but with a set of fancy mags and a new spray job the men from Bloem might just have a vehicle worth dicing a windgat with at the traffic lights.
THE POST MATCH WRAP UP
The Hurricanes looked to be in gale force mode early but the Lions weathered the storm and are still in the hunt to ensure a new sporting high for their fans. The Crusaders have out-muscled and over powered two Kiwi counterparts in the last few weeks and now travel to Johannesburg to meet the pride of the Republic. There is no doubt that the two top teams of the tournament are left standing.
The Crusaders are surely the most well rounded team of the competition and the Lions the most ruthless. Will it be the clinical Crusaders or the passionate Lions who achieve ultimate success? No rugby fan can be left emotionless by the type of rugby these two teams have dished up in 2017. I will be swopping my couch seat for a grandstand ticket as this promises to be pure unadulterated fun! The rollercoaster is about to take its final 360 degree turn. Which set of supporters will be left with the sheer delight of the trophy win and who with that dreading feeling of disappointment at falling at the final hurdle that only true wholehearted sport fans know and understand…