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Madosh Tambwe © Gallo Images

Where's the killer blow?

SuperWrap - week eight, 2018

For every rugby match that has ever been played, there is a story, and way too often it is about missed opportunities.

Just as fishermen love to regale their tales of the “one who got away”, it’s hard not to imagine across bars somewhere when they’re older, there are hundreds of Super Rugby players haunted by the “ones that got away”.

Well, maybe not that many. The amount of games nowadays probably makes that theory a dud, but just like Green Day sang about a “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, there are enough professional rugby players who watch something they have worked so hard for fall through the cracks when they least want it.

Sometimes it is in dramatic fashion – after all, this is sport and it lends itself to drama. The Sharks watched as Napier came alive in a crowd fury that translated into a Hurricanes team barreling forward to claim the victory five minutes after the hooter had sounded.

It was cruel, it was heart-breaking. But then again, this is sport, and too often it happens. That is part of why we love it all.

Still, there is a difference between the dramatic and the frustrating, which is how Robert du Preez must have felt when he watched his charges between the 60th and 72nd minute of the game camp on the Hurricanes line, but fluff chance after chance. The commentators put it down to good defence. They – being Kiwis – raved about how resolute the Hurricanes were in stopping the charge.

But not for one minute did any of us think of something that has become all too common in South African rugby: the inability to plant the killer blow.

It is something that we, as a nation, have struggled with over time. In Super Rugby it has happened as the exception rather than the norm. It has been the highlight when it happens and it happens way too little for a proud rugby nation like ours.

I’m sure everyone reading this can remember a moment where their team – be it Super Rugby, Currie Cup or Springboks – burst into the game with passion and determination, racked up some early tries, only to let it fall by the wayside with what coaches love to call “soft moments”.

We’ve seen it enough at Springbok level. The Boks tend to work overly hard to score, and do just about everything right. But then the opposition – and especially the All Blacks – seem to make light work of that, and a “soft moment” or two puts paid to that.

With the Sharks we saw it change momentum with a number of penalties in the last few minutes, and while there are always those who grumble about referees, Robert du Preez’s side failed to plant the knockout blow.

Coaches have become way too comfortable in saying they didn’t take their opportunities. And it has settled in like a disease in our rugby nation.

We saw it when the Bulls had their foot on the throats of the Chiefs in Hamilton last month, we saw it when the Lions spectacularly gave up a 28-10 lead to lose to the Blues. We saw it in the Sevens this weekend when a brave young Blitzbok side led 19-5 against Fiji, only to make mistakes and concede their advantage easily in the second half.

While it wasn’t as apparent, we saw it this weekend from the Stormers as well. And while it was in another guise – the Lions had the match sewn up when Madosh Tambwe scored his hat-trick in the opening 12 minutes – the Stormers can kick themselves when they look at the stats of the game and how they came back into it.

While it wasn’t as dramatic, Robbie Fleck again coined the “we didn’t use the opportunities we had” slogan afterwards. And it is easy to see why.

The Stormers carried 160 times – almost double the Lions 96 in the game, and dominated every single stat they were involved in. They beat 48 defenders, had 18 clean breaks and made 213 passes. Like at Loftus the week before, they did so much for so little reward and simply couldn’t find that penetration.

That knockout blow comes hand in hand with the ability to score when it matters. This weekend the Lions were gifted the game on a platter when everything went their way in the opening 15 minutes, but the Stormers grafted hard, did most of the play and never got the reward.

They never got the chance to plant a knockout blow because every time they did something right the Lions counter-punched and found the tryline waiting.

The Sharks did everything right but didn’t get the reward they sought because they couldn’t land that knockout blow.

Sevens teams often talk about training players – because there are less of them on the field – for that turnaround time. That's the time it takes a player to jump back up and be in position on defence. A split second costs points in the shortened game. The same result is plain to see in 15s.

But to pinpoint the ruthlessness that is needed is not that easy. Coaches search for it repeatedly. Mental toughness is one of the hardest things to develop in modern rugby and the ability to fight back when things don’t go your way is the Holy Grail all teams search for.

It is also something that, despite our mental fortitude as a rugby nation, we so often cannot sustain. When our backs are against the wall we can take on anyone. But when we are building a season, a dream, we continue to fall back on these soft moments.

And the opposition continues to be able to pounce.

We’ve seen enough of this in the 2018 season alone. Unless we find a way to counter it, it will filter through to the Springboks. The difference between the Springboks and All Blacks in so many games has always been those soft moments. They seem to have very few of them. We have them all too often.

That killer blow still eludes us at all levels of the game. Until we find it, we will never sit at the top of world rugby again.


Here is our look at the week that was...

Tries of the week:

The best of social media:

What a performance by the Bok 7s youngsters, and Selvyn Davids’ star is born. Player of the tournament at Hong Kong Sevens is no mean feat. Take a bow young man.

While the rest of the Sevens team… umm… prepared for the upcoming Commonwealth Games tournament by… umm… working hard.

Good day on the GC ?????

A post shared by Dylan Sage (@dylansage13) on

What do you do when you are at a hunting expo in France? Well, hang out with your old Springbok team-mates it seems.


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And for a different take on the Sharks' loss to the Hurricanes...

Stormers fans weren’t spared either...

Meeting malaise

One of the Springboks who attended Rassie Erasmus’s “alignment camps” was asked how it was this week, and he gave the obligatory “good, good” nod and smile.

Pressed a bit longer he added “we had lots of meetings, lots and lots of meetings” to which a roll of the eyes came. It seems rugby players are good with the practical but like the rest of us, the theory isn’t their favourite.

Make up your mind

There are some writers in New Zealand who can’t make up their minds. One prominent writer, a bundle of one-eyed joy, who wrote for the national newspaper this week on two consecutive days, first claimed all is well in the competition and that “it is clear” that there will only be a New Zealand winner again. Then the next day he produced a piece on “Super Rugby’s ticking time bomb” where he savaged the competition and bemoaned the fact that Kiwi players were injured in derbies – and this didn’t happen in other games. Strange, given the Lions, Stormers and Bulls' injury list of late, I’m sure they’d disagree.


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