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OK SA, this one belonged to you!


Three from three against the Kiwi teams has no doubt brought joy to the hearts of Springbok fans and suddenly the New Zealand conference that was looking so slick after two rounds, has been taken down a peg.

I called the Sunday afternoon game at Eden Park, where the Bulls were able to win for the first time, which is incredible given they’ve been going there in various guises for 19 years.

Their venerable manager Wynie Strydom told me when I saw him before the game that it was the first time in all those years coming to New Zealand that they’d had to factor the sun into their equation…surely a referral to the fact that most games in NZ are played at night, and not our lovely weather!!, and he said it felt just like Pretoria.

I probably should have changed my Virtual Rugby (our equivalent of SuperBru) pick right then and there.

To be honest, I’d already felt some doubts when I saw the Blues selection. John Kirwan decided that three players with niggling injuries would not start, even though they could have played and even though the Blues have the bye this coming weekend.

This exposed a real lack of depth in the Blues squad with four rookies in the starting line-up and another four on the bench.

The Bulls, on the other hand, could make an equal number of changes without weakening their side.

Right from the off, the Bulls were as striking as their pink jerseys. They played with a controlled fury, used their big men to great effect, owned the collision zone, made smart tactical decisions and moved the ball wide when it was on. The two locks were colossal and I thought Arno Botha had a great game.

They denied the Blues go-forward ball, restricted the chances of their dynamic backline, and exposed weaknesses in the Blues armour.

Even when they tired towards the end they were good enough to hang on as the Blues made a desperate attempt to catch them, and importantly they kept their discipline.

That’s a great effort and a repeat could see them give an out of sorts Crusaders side a real go in Christchurch this weekend.

The Cheetahs were stunning in Invercargill against a woeful Highlanders.

They are such a momentum side, and anyone who gives them a start like that had better be prepared to do a lot of chasing.

Johan Goosen was deadly and Sarel Pretorius was at his cheeky best, and proved just how much of a waste of time his year in Sydney was. You have a guy like that, you make him the centre of your game, don’t make him play second fiddle.

The Highlanders were dreadful, with some of their much vaunted senior players looking well off the pace. It’s a worrying sign for Jamie Joseph so early in the season, although the withdrawal of Ma’a Nonu would have been unsettling. But still, no excuses, they were hammered.

The only one of the Kiwi teams that looked like it might steal a game was the Chiefs.

To score four tries against such a great defensive team as the Stormers takes some doing, and there were a couple of gems with great handling by backs and forwards.

But the Stormers messed up the Chiefs' lineout something wicked, and the discipline of the defending champions was poor.

They were duly hammered by Jaco Peyper, and while some thought the second yellow card might have been a bit harsh, he had been warning the players for off-the-ball niggle, so Nick Crosswell was dicing with trouble. No problem there.

However Peyper, a world class referee, did have to make a couple of huge calls in the last minute.

The Chiefs were furious when he allowed Gerhard van den Heever to dive in the side of a ruck to make a steal very handy to the posts, and then penalised the Chiefs at a ruck a moment later.

They had a point. We are constantly told that ball on the ground plus two players from one side and one from the other constitutes a ruck, but Jaco and his assistants thought otherwise. Incidents like that cannot go to the TMO and that’s fair enough…it’s a judgment call, and the TMOs are getting too many wrong anyway.

But however unlucky the Chiefs might have been at the end, they have admitted that better discipline earlier and they might have been in front by then and not chasing. They had other chances as well and didn’t take them, and giving Joe Pietersen five penalty shots at goal in the form he’s in is asking for it.

They did take two points from the game, which not many will do in Cape Town I’m sure.

They will now head to Port Elizabeth and the Kings, to face that passionate crowd and a team that has so far not been the easy beats that some anticipated.

So after so much talk of the quality coming out of the New Zealand conference, it is South African division which is looking very potent.

One key factor has been discipline. Not one South African player has been sin-binned yet.

That must help no end.


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