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Fascinating few weeks ahead

This past weekend marked the end of “Daylight Saving” or Summer Time in New Zealand. The clock gets put back an hour overnight, and when this happens most people take the opportunity to get an extra hours sleep on Sunday morning.

Not in our house. At the age of four, the blond tornado otherwise known as my daughter still goes by her own body clock rather than any manmade timepiece and so she was up and ready to take the world on at 6am.

Despite having arrived home late from Hamilton Saturday night, this early start did not bother me as much as it might have, as I was keen to watch the Stormers Bulls game live.

I’m glad I did. This was a game of test match intensity, and like many test matches got decided in the basic detail. Errors, or the lack of them, discipline or the lack of it and decision making under pressure were the keys and the Stormers gained enough of an advantage to take the win.

If there was a moment that underlined the quality of the Stormers it came straight after Peter Grant had given them their ultimately winning 20-17 lead. A deep kick off from the Bulls gave the Stormers possession under not too much pressure and many teams would have simply hoofed the ball back down field and backed their defense to hold out.

But someone noticed that the Bulls oncoming defensive line was a bit out of shape and they moved the ball quickly right to left, raced down to half way and were able to then control possession out of their own danger zone for the remainder of the game.

It was an excellent piece of recognition and a play based on what they saw in front of them rather than the default setting of a kick that would have given the ball back to the Bulls..

This win has stamped the Stormers as favourites for the title in the minds of many, but that is tempered a little by the fact that they have played all but one of their games at home so far, and they have a testing challenge this week.

For a start they have a big trip east to deal with….all the way to Dunedin, which will not help their recovery from an encounter with the Bulls that would have left them with more than the usual number of bumps and bruises.

It’s not the worst time to strike the Highlanders. Being Easter, much of the Dunedin university student population will be back home getting some decent food into them and their clothes washed and mended ahead of the winter term. There may not be quite the same atmosphere as a result under the roofed stadium.

But the southerners are a gnarly bunch, and on current form will take some beating. They did a good job putting away the Rebels in what would have been a satisfying win for more than the obvious reasons.

Some of the more prominent members of the Rebels side had spent the week tweeting uncomplimentary comments about Invercargill, the venue for the match. OK so it’s not exactly Las Vegas, but those same guys were the first to go MIA when the bullets started to fly after halftime.

As the Stormers and Sharks were preparing to fly in, the Cheetahs were flying out after an outstanding win over the Hurricanes.

The ‘Canes built up a lead that might have had some teams thinking purely of damage limitation, but not the Cheetahs. It was like watching a sports car getting run over from behind by a steam roller.

Two wins out of four on tour for the boys from Bloem, and it might have been even better but for those scrum penalties in the Canberra game. But perhaps even more importantly they have won a new host of admirers for the way they play full tilt right to the end of every game. No-one will really fancy playing them from here on.

The ‘Canes on the other hand, who had been performing better than most expected, now face a major challenge of getting back on track for a match against the Sharks in New Plymouth.

The other big clash…perhaps the biggest of the Easter weekend is that between the Bulls and the Crusaders.

Both need to make improvements. Whilst they staged a great fightback, the Bulls just made too many handling errors and gave away too many untimely penalties against the Stormers, and while the Crusaders did enough to beat the Lions without raising the stress levels of their fan, they are still well short of their traditional standards.

Meanwhile the Chiefs are heading to South Africa as well, although they have that potential banana skin stopover in Perth first.

They showed in beating the Waratahs on Saturday night that provided they can get some quality ball from their young, no names forward pack they have a backline that is right now the equal of any in this competition.

What a fascinating next few weeks we are in for.

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