Things We Learned: Super Rugby Round Three

Things We Learned: Super Rugby Round Three

The lessons keep coming – here’s what round three threw out.

Something is really amiss in Christchurch

The Crusaders HorsemenIt is hard to avoid the conclusion that somehow, as usual, the Crusaders will be towards the top of the log come finals time. They are notoriously slow starters to the season. They also have far from the worst draw in the comp. But just how they are going to get to the finals this year is unclear at this stage.

The men in red and black were comprehensively outclassed by the Blues, no doubt about it. One of the Saders tries was pretty fortuitous too, with the TMO making a very dubious call that there had been no obstruction against Jackson Willison.

The manner in which they conceded points was equally concerning. There was no indication that the Crusaders coaches has learned from the Highlanders the week before, whose in-your-face defence took the Blues speedsters out of the game. The players fell short on an individual level too, with Richie McCaw missing critical tackles on both George Moala and Tevita Li, both of whom went on to score tries.

With McCaw now out for two months, who is going to step up and get this side back on track?

South African fans deserve better


As SARU officials tell their counterparts in Australia and New Zealand every SANZAR meeting, the crowds in the Republic are consistently the biggest in the comp. Having seen the Stormers play the Hurricanes, however, it remains hard to understand why. The Stormers did sometimes spread the ball wide and, when they did so, frequently made ground. This is, after all, a backline that includes Jean de Villiers, Gio Aplon, Jaco Taute, and Damien de Allende, who was put back at 12 and quickly resuscitated his Currie Cup form from last year. More broadly, the Stormers probably have one of the two or three deepest squads on paper.

Rugby is, however, played on turf and not on paper (unless you are where I am at the moment, where it is being played on snow and ice). Being purposeful in attack involves more than spreading the ball. It requires a skill base, trust in the players around you to do their job, and the personnel on the field to execute an expansive game plan. None of that is present at the Stormers and it is hard to see anything changing under the current coaching staff. Opportunity after opportunity was squandered in the first half against a pretty limited Hurricanes side.

Fundamentally, you can’t play real attacking rugby with the type of fly-halves coming out of the Republic. There is a subtle but important difference between shifting the ball and being a playmaker. A quick look at Demetri Catrakilis’ (or Maritz Boshoff’s, or Jacques-Louis Potgieter’s) positioning and passing on the weekend speaks volumes as to the size of that difference. Worst of all, the Stormers pulled out a win by reverting to type in the last 15 minutes, so expect more of the same in the weeks to come. Naas Botha continues to cast a long shadow over South African rugby.

Teams need to broaden responsibilities


Yes, the Tahs were great on the weekend. Their lineout, on the other hand…. Six against the throw? Dave Dennis has helped make himself indispensable to the Tahs. His role in calling the lineout, and as their most prominent jumper, plus his leadership and work-rate, have helped obscure some pretty fundamental shortcomings in other parts of his game, especially at the contact point (the contrast with Jacques Potgieter is pretty unflattering). In this respect, he reminds me a lot of Ben Mowen at the Brumbies, whose shortcomings.

But for the team’s benefit, not for Dennis’, the Tahs coaches need to rapidly work on developing other players’ ability to call the lineout. On the weekend, team selection didn’t help. Most teams at this level need 3 and often 4 jumpers. Potgieter has only been with the team three weeks, so he was never going to be a crucial cog in the lineout. Picking Stephen Hoiles at 6 (rather than, say, Jed Holloway at lock and Potgieter at 6) made the Tahs lineout very one dimensional and put a huge burden on Kane Douglas’ shoulders.

The lesson is clear: it’s a long season and you don’t want to render your team’s performance heavily dependent on any one player. Remember the All Blacks winning the World Cup with their fourth string 10 in 2011.


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