Finding clarity is a bit of a challenge
On Tuesday I interviewed Bryan Habana for ReUnion.
The Stormers had a team dinner on the Tuesday night when we are live on air, but the management were very helpful and set up the interview for us before they went out.
It was good to get the opportunity because Habana won’t be back this way with the Stormers, and may or may not be back with the Springboks…that’s up to HM.
I’ll confess “Flyin’ Bryan” has always been a personal favourite…a charming fellow and a great player, a popular figure in New Zealand, albeit as a frequent nemesis of NZ sides, and his list of admirers grew with his charge down of Beauden Barrett’s attempted conversion in Palmerston North in the last act of the first half.
It was a little Forrest Gump in the way he ran, charged and just kept running, probably until he hit the wall in the change room, but it was an inspirational act, one that might have served to make the Stormers forget they’d even conceded a try. It saved them two points on the field, and almost certainly two points on the log, and who knows how important that’ll be come decision time.
We have sometimes pondered that had Habana been playing for a New Zealand team he would have long since passed Doug Howlett's Super Rugby record of 59 tries….that is not a criticism of South African rugby, but just a nod to a difference in styles.
But what has always amazed me about him, even in times when his teams have flat out refused to pass him the ball, has been his absolute commitment to chase everything like a greyhound after a rabbit.
The way he tears after kick-offs, high bombs and even touch finders speaks volumes, and has often resulted either directly or indirectly in tries, or penalties for his team, and on Friday he added a new trick to his repertoire. He told me he’d never been able to charge such a kick before, which is surprising indeed.
The win certainly keeps the Stormers in the hunt, and now they’ll face the Blues in Auckland…not at Eden Park but North Harbour Stadium in the heart of an area heavily populated by expat Saffas. The Blues do not have a great record there against South African teams.
While there has been much made of the startling young attacking talent in the Blues, this will actually be the clash of the best two defensive teams in the competition…the Blues have conceded one more try than the Stormers but have conceded fewer points, although they have lost two games to silly penalties.
The Blues though, will be hard to beat if they can compete like they did in Brisbane, where they came desperately close to toppling the Reds in one of several nerve jangling clashes played out over the weekend.
Again, amidst all those young guns it was two old hands, Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu, who were guilty of errors that proved the difference between winning and losing.
The Chiefs scored an important win over the Sharks in a repeat of last year's final, although like the Blues-Reds match it could have gone the other way but for errors at key moments.
The Sharks did brilliantly to fight back from an early points blitz by the home team, but the Chiefs just managed to keep them at a short arm's length.
I’m sure Sharks fans will feel aggrieved at a marginal forward pass (for what it’s worth I think it was slightly forward but many other such passes have gone undetected) and a ruck turnover that looked suspiciously like it might have been caused by a fiddling Chiefs hand rather than a Sharks error, but they were also guilty of a couple of blood rushes that did not help their cause.
Having scored a great try, Keegan Daniel twice got put into touch, took an ill-advised tap kick near the line and then gave away a penalty at the end that cost his side what would have been a well deserved second bonus point.
The Sharks pack was imposing, and Lubabalo Mtembu had a fantastic game, but beyond Pat Lambie some of the backs looked a bit sluggish, and while the temperatures are about to drop as they head to Dunedin, the heat is now turned up on the Natalians.
The Highlanders are bottom of the table, but I wouldn’t necessarily dismiss their chances as they come off the bye. They are likely to have All Black Tamati Ellison back, they have a gnarly forward pack that won’t shy away from the physical stuff, and they have to beat someone, sometime, sooner or later.
Last week I suggested that “I might go the Cheetahs, so long as they don’t get the speed wobbles….” for the South African conference…I was accused for the first time in my life of smoking my socks.
For the record, I don’t smoke anything, haven’t done for years, in fact right now I’m not drinking either (trying to lose weight ahead of a week in Fiji), but even so finding a bit of clarity in this year's Super Rugby is a challenge.
The Brumbies and Reds are playing excellent, winning rugby and I’ll still say the Brumbies are favourites to top the log, but their position is clouded a little by the fact that they’ve played an extra round. Meantime you could throw a blanket over the four South African contenders, and despite unconvincing form there are still three Kiwi teams in the hunt.
But I just like the look of the Cheetahs' schedule, and I still think it will be them and the Bulls most likely to qualify from SA.
Two things to finish on.
The selection of Sean Maitland for the British and Irish Lions is a bit of a joke.
That a guy who had not set foot in Scotland before last year should not only have gone straight into that national side but the Lions as well makes a mockery of the international regulations, not to mention the accusations of poaching, fleecing, annexing talent from other countries, or cheapening the value of a test jersey, that have emanated from the UK over the years, so often in defiance of the facts.
In all there are three New Zealand born, two South African, a Tongan and a Samoan born player in the “British and Irish” Lions.
And make sure you catch ReUnion this week. We have rather mischievously dug out our archives a bunch of famous clashes between great players and referees over the years. Current commentators were not given diplomatic immunity.