The Stormers went down without scoring a point, the Cheetahs conceded a 50-pointer, the Lions seem to be set to follow the path of previous campaigns, and the Bulls and Sharks produced a match that would probably not be made into a dvd any time soon.
On the whole, this was not a good weekend for SA rugby.
I will be the first to admit that I have shared a few very intense moments with my tv lately, and that certain choice phrases of the Cape vernacular found fit to pry their way past my tightly clenched jaws. Despite this however, after a good Sunday lunch, I sat down and watched some of the games again, and I concluded that there are some good signs amongst the familiar augurs of doom.
The Cheetahs showed that they can be very dangerous with ball in hand and certainly know their way to the tryline. They have a solid all-round pack, even without the irrepressible CJ van der Linde, and their loosies are very dynamic. Of course they have a serious problem with ball security – turnovers accounting for a lot of the points against them, and although Fredericks and Passens are still able and quick despite their age, they were never going to truly trouble guys like Rockoco and Toeva.
Particularly promising is that they seem to be equally comfortable playing with the backs or forwards, and this is a step up from last year. Definitely a work in progress, but promising in that they seem to be constantly improving, and have also shown that the Blues defence can be penetrated.
The Lions have copped a fair bit of criticism from me, but the truth is that they too seem to be a work in progress and getting better. I still maintain that Louis Strydom should be afforded the honour he warrants and offered the freedom of Matjietiesfontein and a one-way ticket to take up residence there as soon as possible, but this team is definitely better than they were last year.
The pack still doesn’t inspire terror, the wings definitely lack the pace or power one requires at this level, but the sum exceeds the value of the components. I believe that moving Jaco van Schalkwyk to starting 10 could really reap rewards as he is an under-rated ball-player with pace, skill and vision in bucketloads. Earl Rose could remain as an impact player for a little while more at least, unless they believe he is going to be as effective when starting – he has really shown some great form this season so far.
I think they deserved the win against the Force and were unlucky to have Calvin Deaker blow a pretty bad game, exemplified, but not limited to, the non-allowance of a valid try. I think that this team will win some games as the season progresses, and I hope the Sharks get them before they hit their stride.
For the Stormers, their pack continued to play well, and despite the introduction of 2 new members to the loose trio, they weren’t quite blown of the park. They were certainly not shy of the contact, but they didn’t really look like scoring either. Grant has been a disappointment so far and he very seldom seems to be on the same wavelength as the rest of his teams – case in point being his kicks which were seldom if ever chased.
Unfortunately Bobo seems to have fallen back into old, evil ways, and one can only hope that another pilgrimage to the mountains wont be necessary to get him playing like he can. There was even the recall of the dreaded grubber that made me have flashbacks of the halcyon days of Bobo and Rudi Keil fronting the Sharks midfield… Please excuse me as I try and find my happy place…
Anyway, I don’t think that a pairing of Januarie (not the quickest service on Earth) and Grant is ideal. I find it astounding that Dollie yet again was found excess to requirements, but being that as it may, I think that somebody like the young Hougaard might complement Grant better (and no Wes, I don’t mean that he will tell him he has nice hair and cute dimples).
All this is of course besides the point, as the Stormers biggest problem is the same as with all other SA sides, but I’m allowing for the fact that Rassie is building from the ground up, and we will see more as time passes. I do notice that he has put a lot of emphasis on the pack work and defence, and as the Bulls and Sharks fans should know, those are the best places to start building from.
Im sure that the clash between the Bulls and Sharks will get plenty of airtime early this week, so I wont say too much. For the Bulls, one must remember that they are missing Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Gary Both and Bryan Habana – no team loses them and stays the same. Factor in the loss of Heyneke Meyer and the picture should get clearer. The good news is that Bakkies Botha and Habana will return later, but in all honesty I expect that this will be a dismal year for them. The worst sign for me is the blatant dirty play. It speaks to me of desperation and a loss of order in the ranks. The fact that FDP is playing the worst rugby of his career doesn’t help either of course. This is the SA team that concerns me the most.
The Sharks learnt what it feels like to lose close, heart-breaking games in 2006, they learnt how to win close games (bar one) in 2007, and they are applying that knowledge to win even when playing badly in 2008. Frankly, until the 72nd minute of this game, I had been very unimpressed with the team, and pretty convinced that their campaign was gonna start sliding away soon. However, they have consistently shown an ability to knuckle down, hold their nerve, and score when it counts.
Forget that the Bulls were down to 14 men – the 3 closing tries were all quality scores, while there was plenty of skill on display when they ran the ball. The nerve, fitness and organization on defence shown to hold the monochrome Bulls at bay was also heartening. Still room for improvement, but definitely getting their.
All the SA sides still fail to attack space instead of an opposing player most of the time, we still insist on carrying the ball to the ground in contact instead of releasing the ball in the tackle, we don’t run enough simple, set moves, and we also don’t tackle the ball on defence, but rather concentrate on the player. There are of course other issues, but if I can see this much, why cant our coaches?
In closing, this was a pretty bleak weekend on the face of it, but we must remember that the SA teams are the only ones really new to these rules. In addition, all the teams bar the Bulls showed improvement and improved play under the ELVs. I’ll put my head on the block and say we might get 3 SA victories next week but thats not from my Sauce.Tweet