Bulls cast rated - and it ain't pretty
The results of the opening weekend of the 2012 Super Rugby Finals Series saw South Africa’s participation in the tournament cut by a third, but it also guaranteed a place for one of our teams in the final.
It will be the first time since that memorable day at the Orlando Stadium in 2010 that we will have local representation in the title-decider of the southern hemisphere’s provincial showpiece.
Our finalist will be determined when the Stormers and the Sharks meet in their semifinal at Newlands on Saturday, and we’ve already seen our social media platforms flood with animated predictions from two sets of result-starved fans.
But don’t expect the same from us here at the SuperWrap desk. We don’t really care too much about who the winner of that encounter will be. As far as we’re concerned the real winner will be South African rugby, regardless of the result.
If it’s the Stormers, then they will host the following week’s final, giving us our best chance of claiming the title for a fourth time. And a win for the Sharks? Well, that will serve as an indicator that the time has come to shake the cloak of cynicism that is busy choking every last bit of creativity out of our game.
This past weekend’s results paints that picture quite vividly.
On the one hand we had the three-time champions, the Bulls, playing the only game that has ever brought our country success at this level. Except, it last did so over two years ago, and on Saturday their predictable mix of harmless kick-chases and one-off runners barging head-down into the midfield was so stale that the Crusaders never even thought of switching to second gear.
On the other we had the Sharks, who looked very un-South African as they packed their backline with their mammoth tight-five and ran aggressively from word go, completely dominating their play-off fixture as it almost immediately started to pay off.
In Christchurch the Crusaders had no problems fielding high kicks all day. They knew that no matter who won the ball in the air, it will go to ground, and once it did they hardly needed more than two players to outwit and out-muscle the bumbling Bulls breakdown.
In Brisbane the Reds loose-forwards spent their evening trying to bring down men that at times seemed twice their size, never getting a sniff of the ball.
The difference, apart from the Durbanites refusing to ineffectually kick away the bulk of their possession, came in what happened once a big ball-carrier – used in equal measure by both sides - breached the advantage line.
The Bulls went to ground immediately, waiting an age for someone to clean out the ruck, causing them to lose possession as often as they won it back. The Sharks kept the ball alive and off the ground, allowing whoever was up in support a free run at a defensive line that had no time to retreat and recalibrate.
The weapon that made it possible was the one thing South African coaches dread more than a plate of vegetables: the offload in contact.
According to local wisdom, our forwards – while being physically challenged and at risk of serious bodily harm - are perfectly capable of being lifted almost four metres into the air to grab a ball and from there pop it down perfectly into the hands of a waiting scrumhalf. Yet, somehow, they don’t have the skill to stretch that same long arm though a tackle and get the ball away to a support runner.
It is a notion that took a life-threatening blow in Brisbane last Saturday, when the Sharks showed that not only can we do it, our athletic forwards and possession-starved backs look almost unstoppable when we get it right. It is a notion that we hope dies under the watchful eyes of Springbok management in Cape Town this week. Even if it ends up in a result that would in all probability cost us the title.
The Chiefs won the New Zealand conference on the back of a No 12 that did more damage this year using this one tool than all the Bulls and Bok up-and-unders since that era-ending day in Soweto. And while we can’t get Mr Williams to run out in green-and-gold, we are being shown that there is no reason not to take the field with a least six semi-Sonnys.
For now, let’s look at our first Teams of the Season.
For those joining us for the first time at the business end of the season: our season's teams are made up of the players that were selected into our weekly teams most often. Our weekly teams, in turn, were selected on the previous weekend's action only. Overall this should reflect which players we thought had the best form throughout the season. The South African and overall Super XV will be announced next week.
Australian XV for 2012:
15. Jesse Mogg (Brumbies) 14. Henry Speight (Brumbies) 13. Nick Cummins (Western Force) 12. James O` Connor 11. Mark Gerrard (Rebels) 10. Kurtley Beale (Rebels) 9. Will Genia (Reds) 8. Scott Higginbotham (Reds) 7. David Pocock (Western Force) 6. Michael Hooper (Brumbies) 5. Nathan Sharpe (Western Force) 4. Rob Simmons (Reds) 3. Ben Alexander (Brumbies) 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs) 1. Benn Robinson (Waratahs).
New Zealand XV for 2012:
15. Andre Taylor (Hurricanes) 14. Corey Jane (Hurricanes) 13. Conrad Smith (Hurricanes) 12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs) 11. Hosea Gear (Highlanders) 10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) 9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) 8. Kieran Read (Crusaders) 7. Matt Todd (Crusaders) 6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders) 5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) 4. Luke Romano (Crusaders) 3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) 2. Andrew Hore (Highlanders) 1. Sona Taumalolo (Chiefs).
Match of the week:
We dedicated most of last week’s SuperWrap to explaining just how tough it is to travel overseas to play a Super Rugby play-off. And then Sharks went and proved us wrong.
Massive on attack in the first half, and equally colossal on defence in the second, the South Africans were in complete control of this fixture from start to finish.
The Sharks had a stuttering start to the season, but as explained above, once they started going there was almost no stopping them. This is the game in which it all came together for them.
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:
This week's try of the week also came from Brisbane, where JP Pietersen got the ball in space after turnover possession was skilfully rocketed to his wing. The Bok winger had no trouble wrong-footing the desperate cover defence as he crossed for his fifth five-pointer of the season.
Here it is:
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Here is this week's look at what players got up to on Twitter:
|The Bulls may have been stuck in cold Christchurch last week but, as Juandre Kruger showed us, they still found a way to celebrate Madiba's birthday.
|Cheetahs midfielder Andries Strauss gave this suggestion as a post-rugby career for Keegan Daniel. We’re not so sure…
|Chiefs flanker Liam Messam has had some strange massages in his time, but surely none could have been as painful as this one looks.
|Wonder why the Waratahs so often seemed somewhat, er, distracted on the field this season? Perhaps this pic of a management member’s reading material is the answer.
|We also wondered if James O` Connor became an All Black this week, but it turns out this is that other Justin Bieber.
The Bulls sure have a way of raising eyebrows sometimes. Soon after appointing their new head of the Commercial department, Leon Potgieter, they sent out a press release to let everyone know he has settled in.
Potgieter let us in on how he has studied other great brands such as Barcelona and Manchester United to see how the Bulls can maximize their brand in a sporting market.
So far so good, but the next line did trouble us.
“Something that caught my attention recently was the fact that Barcelona do not allow the sale or consumption of alcohol at the Nou Camp which inevitably creates more of a family atmosphere. I don’t believe we would take it that far, but it’s just interesting to note that they still attract capacity crowds in spite of that fact,” Potgieter said.
A tee-totalling Loftus? We shudder to think how that thought will go down with the horned horde on the Upper East Stand.