Build a solid platform, then launch
After an incredible weekend of results for South African teams and individuals, where I thoroughly enjoyed getting to watch from the comfort of my couch and the odd public space - I eventually have time to reflect.
The Bulls were outplayed, plain and simple. The Crusaders, in imperious form at the breakdown, stopped the boys in blue from even starting anything – and although the Bulls showed some grit and determination, it was after the game's crunch time; it was almost enough to start a fightback, but there was just not enough time left for it to be taken seriously.
The Sharks, away in Brisbane, were outstanding. Fighting start, solid middle and fighting finish too. They had decided to win this and arrived with intent, the necessary resolve, and threw a measure of flair in there too. Keegan Daniel improves with each performance this year, and he started well, so that says something.
Call me a romantic, but I was on cloud nine all weekend, and then I started to see a link between some of the sporting goings-on.
Maybe it was Ernie's temperate, plodding grit to give himself a chance that started it, or maybe it was the solid, unrelenting concentration of Amla, but I started to think about how they seemed to need the platform first, and it reminded me of the flack that the Stormers took for being the boring, measured ones who couldn't manage anything except the win.
Ernie only started to show his flair on the back nine. He was angry about missing a chance in the first half of the round and steeled himself to make some aggressive shots, which he did, and when the opportunity presented itself, he took it.
I think with the form of the Sharks, the way they have cut open the belly of the opposition with surging runs from Willem Alberts and JP Pietersen, and their great run of wins to put themselves in contention, they have had to show everything. It's all out there, and it already looks good enough to beat anybody, so they are a contender no doubt this weekend. They are also playing in South Africa, which is a distinct advantage.
The Stormers by comparison, haven't really showed their hand. I think that they do have one to show, and we have seen a few glimpses, but not as much as we would like. Maybe that platform they have been setting up, is one of belief in their own dependable defensive abilities - and one that can wear down the attacking options of the teams they face. I would still like to see more of their flashy, talented backs, especially on quick ball, and I think that opposition teams would like to see less of it.
There is a huge task awaiting both teams, and as a proud South African, it is great to have a guaranteed finalist. However, despite the hard work that the Sharks have put in getting here, you have to think that the more likely chance of a victory for the tournament would go to the team that could stay at home for their semi and final. But is 'more likely' something that will figure in their thinking? Never !
Either way, it's been an incredible journey for the Sharks so far, and they will be keen to continue it – to Hamilton or to Christchurch. On the other hand, and after a two-week break, the steady, plodding Stormers will be trying to look at what Hashim Amla did, and then take the platform, and use it, and like the great Ernie Els, drop a fifteen-footer when they need one the most – either in the semis or the final.
Good luck all round!