Out of sight, top of mind
All the talk at the end of week six of this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby tournament has centred on the Stormers’ win over the Bulls at Newlands.
Our facebook and twitter feeds were at near-meltdown levels as abundant claims of referee bias were met with counter-claims of sour grapes being at the root of most of this ref bashing; outrage over the unsporting behaviour of the home crowd offset by ridiculing the colour of the visitors’ jerseys.
Here at the SuperWrap desk we choose to ignore these trivialities. Our fair-minded view is that there weren’t any losers on Saturday.
Fans, both at the stadium and in brightly-lit pink-hued lounges everywhere, were treated to a high-octane, thrill-a-minute affair. The Stormers take to the skies with their undefeated record intact, while the Bulls can rest easy in the knowledge that they’ve been taught every interpretation of every sub-clause of every scrum law ever devised.
Our top teams seem fine, and we were convinced that we’ll spend much of this column explaining how far they are on their way to playoff contention. But then we had a look at the log for confirmation, and it was something else that caught our eye.
Away from the hype of North/South derbies, and out of the spotlight that is focussed on the cat-squabble to avoid the relegation axe, the South African conference has another team, and that team is sitting pretty.
The Sharks, their own fans will admit, have not had the most auspicious start to the tournament. With a backline struggling outside the sluggish service of experimental scrumhalf Freddie Michalak, they failed to be anything more than merely competitive in their opening fixtures against the Bulls and the Stormers. And their inexplicable tendency to lose focus halfway through the second half cost them the match against the Waratahs, and came close to doing so again against the Brumbies this past weekend.
Their line-out continues to struggle when challenged, and their pack is nowhere near the physically dominant unit we’ve come to know in seasons past.
Yet, here they are: completely under that radar, but just one log point under the playoff cut-off, and only three off the much-celebrated Bulls. And they are there despite having a four-point bye in hand over everyone above them in the standings.
That a stuttering outfit can find itself that high up on the log says a lot about the topsy-turvy nature of this year’s competition, where the Australians are struggling and the smart money is always on the underdog in Kiwi derbies. But the Sharks won’t mind any of that.
What will excite the Durbanites most is their list of remaining fixtures. They are currently preparing to face a Hurricanes outfit still recovering from the shock of having been run off their feet by the Cheetahs. After that they face NZ’s lowest-ranked team, the Blues.
It’s once they’re home that things are really looking up, though. They’ll spend the entire second half of the tournament in the comfortable surrounds of Kings Park, except for two short hops to Bloemfontein and Johannesburg.
In contrast to this, their main SA rivals still have to play their first games on tour, while both the Bulls and the Stormers will still have to pay visits to Durban before they can start having post-season thoughts.
We’re not in the business of making premature predictions, but what we see on paper is enough for us to sound a warning. Write the Sharks off at your own peril.
Now let’s see if any of them made it into this week’s Bok Barometer.
Note: all our teams are selected on the past weekend's action only, so overall season form is not a factor. Players with a bye are then obviously not considered.
Super XV for week six:
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders) 14. Sean Maitland (Crusaders) 13. Richard Kahui (Chiefs) 12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs) 11. Zac Guildford (Crusaders) 10. Johan Goosen (Cheetahs) 9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders) 8. Nasi Manu (Highlanders) 7. David Pocock (Force) 6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders) 5. Juandre Kruger (Bulls) 4. Eben Etsebeth (Stormers) 3. WP Nel (Cheetahs) 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls) 1. Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs).
Bok Barometer for week six:
15. Hennie Daniller (Cheetahs) 14. Odwa Ndungane (Sharks) 13. Robert Ebersohn (Cheetahs) 12. Jean de Villiers (Stormers) 11. Bjorn Basson (Bulls) 10. Johan Goosen (Cheetahs) 9. Charl McLeod (Sharks) 8. Duanne Vermeulen (Stormers) 7. Willem Alberts (Sharks) 6. Siya Kolisi (Stormers) 5. Juandre Kruger (Bulls) 4. Eben Etsebeth (Stormers) 3. WP Nel (Cheetahs) 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls) 1. Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs).
Match of the week:
This week there could be only one. From the beginning of the week the hype was incredible, and when the pink-clad Bulls ran out to deafening boos at Newlands you knew the match would live up to it.
Not a quarter asked or given for the full 80 minutes, it even had overseas critics bandy about terms like “test-match intensity”.
In the end the Stormers ran out deserved victors, but not before they were given a proper fright.
It’s the type of match that no highlights package will ever do justice to, but here it is anyway:
Please note that video footage is for the website only and is rights restricted and therefore only available in regions that fall within SuperSport’s broadcast footprint.
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Try of the week:
To be honest, we could have gone with any of the ten tries scored in the match between the Hurricanes and the Cheetahs. In the end we settled for Hennie Daniller’s score in the 34th minute, which came at the end of yet another 15-man, length-of-the-field effort.
See if you can spot it in this collection:
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Quotes of the week:
- Gio Aplon, Richard Kahui and Pek Cowan – who all played in their 50th Super Rugby (SR) games for their franchises.
- The Cheetahs – who recorded their first-ever win in New Zealand.
- Brayden Mitchell – who became the first-ever player to replace his real-life boss in a SR game. Mitchell and fellow Highlanders hooker Jason Rutledge both work for the same plumbing firm, with Rutledge holding a more senior position. When No 16 ran on for No 2 in the second half, he scored one for all of us ordinary folk out there.
“I grew up in Queensland, where we didn't have daylight saving. Folklore has it because the paint would peel in the extra hour of sunlight or the cows wouldn't be ready to be milked on time,” Former Wallaby captain John Eales explains the realities of daylight savings time.
“Hurricanes – turning seven into three since 1996” - Sky Sports commentator Scott Stevenson is not impressed with the Hurricanes' decision making.
“Here we have two against two – a flyhalf against an overweight centre, no guesses for who should win” – SuperSport analyst Naas Botha wasn’t the biggest fan of midfielders on Saturday. Mind you, he wasn’t much of a midfielder fan in his playing days either, especially not of those playing outside him.
Here is what your favourite players got up to on twitter this week:
|The Chiefs players recently shaved their heads in support of cancer, and they thought so much of their new looks that they gave us their best Blue Steel. Now who wouldn’t want to meet these boys in a dark alley?
|We never really want to ask questions, and when James O’Connor tweeted this pic of teammate Kurtley Beale asking to use his hotel bath with seven bags of ice in it, we just left it. Doesn’t Kurtley look comfortable?
|How does a player take a shower with a broken leg? Jonno Lance shows us that even an Aussie knows the old saying “n boer maak n plan”
|We’re happy to report that well-travelled ref Jonathan Kaplan is over his heartbreak of losing his beloved Bulldog Ruby and has a new girl in his life. Her name is Lola and she’s a whizz at ensuring he packs well for long trips.
As shown above, the Chiefs players did their bit for charity as several players lost their hair this week for their local Cancer Shavathon.
But when New Zealand programme, The Crowd Goes Wild had a chat afterwards, the interview revealed a bit too much of their personal lifestyles as kids.
“This is the first time I’ve shaved my head since I was a kid,” Sonny Bill Williams proclaimed, “To be honest I had to, I had nits (lice) in my hair and it was either shave or I couldn’t swim in my uncle’s pool.”
Ok, enough said.
The road to nowhere
We know at times the Lions administration has come across as clueless, but we were amused to find them advertising a “semi-luxurious” bus trip to Welkom for this weekend’s clash against the Cheetahs yesterday.
The “exciting trip” would see their fans depart Joburg stadium for Welkom this weekend at 9am, and arrive back after the game with snacks and beverages available on the bus.
The only problem is…the game is in Bloemfontein after the Cheetahs moved it back two weeks ago as facilities at the North West Stadium in Welkom were deemed not up to standard to host a capacity crowd.
This in itself is ironic, as Bloemfontein is hardly the epicentre of capacity crowds in Super Rugby.
We do hope the Lions find their way down the N1 and take the correct turn in Kroonstad, otherwise it could be a long afternoon for those fanatical enough to take the bus trip.
Bulletjie’s best trick
We hear that Sharks doctor Ewoudt van der Linde was a real lifesaver last week, helping a passenger who experienced medical problems as the Sharks headed overseas.
The story as accounted by midfielder Tim Whitehead in his blog, shows at least Ewoudt got a bit of a reward for his efforts.
“There was, however, a slight hiccup in the upstairs section after a passenger passed out an hour into the flight. The pilot was about to turn the plane around to head back to Jo'burg when doc came to the rescue! He literally saved the passenger's life and was bumped up to business class with young Paul Jordaan and the trip went on,” Whitehead wrote.
For those of you who don’t know what Dr Ewoudt’s previous job was – he was the Bulls mascot that did flick-flacks at Loftus while studying towards his medical degree.
Rebels without applause
The Melbourne Rebels certainly aren’t used to the pleasures of Super Rugby travel schedules yet. We loved the fact that they all took time out to share their thoughts of Invercargill - which is of course the home of outgoing IRB Boss Paddy O’Brien.
The Rebels aren’t likely to be awarded the freedom of the city for their efforts, though, as they slagged off the Highlanders venue as below their lofty standards.
“Invercargill - the city of water and light”, Kurtley Beale tweeted, “By water the constant rainfall and by light the end of the tunnel at the airport.”
Captain and Welshman Gareth Delve was looking forward to the nightlife: “Looking forward to hitting the local drive-in cinema in Invercargill. Heard there’s a great new film about a friendly extra terrestrial.”
Nick Phipps on the other hand, was catching up with the news, as he told Reds captain James Horwill.
“Mate I was just watching the local news and the main story was something about a lost cat…”
We’re sure Invercargill can’t wait to have them back again.