B is the new A
After ten arduous weeks of Vodacom Super Rugby action the top half of the log is starting to resemble a biology lesson. The competition ‘survival of the fittest’ is playing out in front of our very eyes.
It is a point that came across all too clearly in Bloemfontein on Saturday. The incident happened 10 minutes into the second half when talisman-10 Johan Goosen ran in a brilliant 60m try down the right-hand touchline but hurt his shoulder in the act of grounding the ball. At the two-thirds mark the conversion had stretched their lead to a virtually unassailable 30-9, but it cost them a flyhalf.
And if the last half-hour of the Bloem match is anything to go by, it could well cost them their season.
Visibly upset by the injury to their star playmaker, the Cheetahs started losing focus on defence, and the Highlanders took full advantage, scoring three very soft long-range tries to bring them level. Goosen’s replacement, Sias Ebersohn, then proceeded to miss a penalty attempt plumb in front of the sticks, allowing Chris Noakes to snatch a win at the other end from the now-slack jaw of the limping Cheetah.
And there’s another injured cat that has suffered the same fate. When Springbok veteran Wikus van Heerden was lost to concussion way back in round one of the competition, it started a spate of injuries so bad that it forced Lions coach John Mitchell to have to call up a fifth or sixth-choice lock on occasion. The upshot, so to speak, is a line-out that has lost more ball this season than the Bulls and the Cheetahs combined, and an attack as weak as it ever was in the year they can afford it least.
It is not the same in the top half of the table. Look at our conference leaders, for example, who also had to struggle with injuries from the very start of the tournament. An injury list that contains names like Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers, Andries Bekker, Duanne Vermeulen and Gio Aplon is impressive enough to cripple most campaigns, but somehow the Stormers have been able to replace every injured star with someone who was able - physically and mentally - to make the step up to Super level almost immediately.
It’s a pattern that repeats throughout the log. The Reds (bottom half) spent their season watching one inside back after the other helped off the field as the physicality of top-flight rugby took its toll. The Crusaders (top half) have barely missed two of the greatest All Blacks of all time as Tom Taylor and Matt Todd stole headlines in absence of Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.
This weekend we’ll see the Rebels (bottom half), struggling all season without the regular use of star acquisitions like James O` Connor and Kurtley Beale, take on the Bulls (top half), who lost no striking power when they had youngsters Arno Botha and CJ Stander stand in for Springbok flanks Deon Stegmann and Dewald Potgieter. It is tough to see that particular apple cart being toppled, and if it is to happen, it will most likely be done through the re-introduction of the hitherto injured Stirling Mortlock.
Coping with injuries has always been part and parcel of any successful Super Rugby campaign, but this season it has become more evident than ever. And, with the addition of a month-long break for internationals, it is set to become much worse.
Here at the SuperWrap desk we are loath to make predictions, but this trend is strong enough for us to make an exception.
Four months from now the 2012 Super title will in all probability go to the outfit that has the best ‘B’ team right now.
Let’s move on to our teams of the week.
Note: all our teams are selected on the past weekend's action only, so overall season form is not a factor. Players in teams with a bye are then obviously not considered.
Super XV for week 10:
15. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), 14. Henry Speight (Brumbies), 13. Robbie Fruean (Crusaders), 12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs), 11. Julien Savea (Hurricanes), 10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), 9. Jimmy Cowan (Highlanders), 8. Kieran Reid (Crusaders), 7. Matt Todd (Crusaders), 6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders), 5. Andries Bekker (Stormers), 4. Craig Clarke (Chiefs), 3. Owen Franks (Crusaders), 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs), 1. Arizona Taumalolo (Chiefs).
Bok Barometer for week 10:
15. Hennie Daniller (Cheetahs), 14. Cameron Jacobs (Cheetahs), 13. Bryan Habana (Stormers), 12. Juan de Jongh (Stormers), 11. Gerhard van den Heever (Stormers), 10. Johan Goosen (Cheetahs), 9. Dewaldt Duvenage (Stormers), 8. Nizaam Carr (Stormers), 7. Rynhard Elstadt (Stormers), 6. Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs), 5. Andries Bekker (Stormers), 4. De Kock Steenkamp (Stormers), 3. Pat Cilliers (Lions), 2. Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), 1. Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs)
Match of the week:
This week’s best encounter came in Sydney where the Crusaders needed a fair bit of Robbie Freuan magic to beat the Waratahs 37-33.
The scoreline flattered the home side somewhat, as it was a late consolation try by replacement scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius that gave it respectability, but that try was the last of a handful of spectacular five-pointers from both sides throughout the match.
There have certainly been more tense matches this season, but as a good old-fashioned crowd-pleaser, nothing came close to it his weekend.
Here are the highlights:
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:
As stated above, the Crusaders had mostly the brilliance of centre Robbie Freuan to thank for their win. Nowhere was he better than in scoring his second try in the 54th minute.
After grabbing a pass on his ankles he looped around Zac Guildford and Israel Dagg before squeezing through the narrowest of gaps next to the touchline on his way to scoring the match-winner.
Here it is:
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Jorrie of the week:
Here is what the SuperWrap’s resident Cheetahs fan solemnly describes as the “Jorrie of the season”.
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Craig Clarke, Benson Stanley and Digby Ioane, who all played their 50th matches for their respective franchises this weekend. Clarke has also played three for the Crusaders and 14 for the Hurricanes, while Ioane has run out 20 times for the Force.
Here is what your favourite players got up to on twitter this week:
|Hurricanes players and coaching staff sure are different. After finding this spider at their team training camp in Wellington, Corey Jane reports that forwards coach Richard Watt then “lost the battle of rock, paper, scissors” and had to eat the spider alive. What next? Family pets?
|Francois Hougaard is a man for speed, and was overjoyed to go on a “breakfast run” with this bad boy toy. We can only hope there weren’t potholes, cops or e-toll tags involved and that the car made it back safely.
|Rodzilla is a favourite in Melbourne but some feel he has lost his strength since shaving his mullet. Teammate Michael Lipmann this week used all his crayons to start his own campaign to bring back the mullet.
|Adam Thomson seems to have his mind on other things lately, and recently let us in on his thoughts by showing he was thinking of buying a wife from Vietnam. We like the fact that there is that runaway policy…let us know if it works out for you Thommo.
Changing his tune?
Wallaby scrumhalf Will Genia was in the news over the weekend when he pulled out of an announced deal with the Western Force to re-sign with the Reds.
The pint-sized halfback revealed afterwards it was a sing-a-long in the change room after the win over the Blues which made him change his mind and decide – for a reported A$200 000 less – to stay on as a Reds player.
''It isn't about money, it's about being happy,'' the Wallabies No. 9 said. ''I'm willing to sacrifice that to stay with my mates and be somewhere I enjoy.''
What we want to know is what the song was? And can they teach it to the Cheetahs before the Sharks’ next visit to Bloem?
Lam to the slaughter
The Blues aren’t having a good year, and right in the centre of it all is coach Pat Lam.
Having already claimed racism at the heart of some vociferous criticism of his coaching style, Lam was despondent after his team allegedly ignored their game plan, trying to run it from deep in rainy conditions in Brisbane last week.
This led to the NZ Herald lambasting them with the headline: “Can’t tackle, Can’t catch, Can’t Score” as they laid into the fact the Blues had lost another game.
Lam, who continues to have the support of the NZRU and the Blues franchise, has now decided that the best form defence is attack, and is turning the tables on those who ask the tough questions.
"A lot of guys are out there doing their best and working hard. Often when I have conversations with people they'll pick up the negatives on what some players are doing.
"I ask them: tell me who you'd put in there? It's easy to say this guy is not playing well but who are you going to put in? Just give me an option. Most people I talk to can't give me an option either."
We’re not sure if not having an alternative plan, or option, is cause enough for Lam to feel vindicated, but we do know that the pressure mounts with every loss.
And he shouldn’t be asking those kind of questions when the NZRU comes knocking.