5 Things We Learned from Super Rugby Round 11
The top of the table bunched up following Round 11 of Super Rugby, with leaders Sharks losing at home to the Highlanders and the chasing three sides all winning their respective fixtures.
There was misery on the road for early-season fancies the Waratahs and the Chiefs, meaning just five points cover positions fourth to eighth.
Here are the lessons learned from Round 11.
1. Sharks Show Vulnerability
The result of the weekend definitely came in Durban with the Highlanders’ impressive 34-18 defeat of the league leaders.
The Sharks lost captain Bismarck du Plessis before kick-off, but the hooker’s absence was far from the determining factor in the game.
The Highlanders have looked capable of ripping teams apart with their high tempo game plan, and they did just that with three first-half tries.
The Sharks stay top, but it was far from ideal preparation for Jake White’s injury-hit squad as they embark on their overseas trip in this year’s competition.
2. Fekitoa Stokes All Black Fires
In the same game, Malakai Fekitoa scored one of the tries of the tournament so far with a 60m run that started by shrugging off two would-be tacklers before he turned on the afterburners to outpace the chasing Sharks players.
His display was impressive enough to prompt former All Black Justin Marshall, writing in the New Zealand Herald, to suggest an All Black call-up might not be too far away.
He is a real spark for the Highlanders, and it wouldn't surprise me if the All Blacks were looking at him. They need depth at centre and Ben Smith, tried there last year in the absence of Conrad Smith, is an outside back.
The only way you build depth is to give players with potential and the ability to fit your game plan a go. He could be named as an All Black as soon as this year.
3. Blues Batter Waratahs
They may struggle away from home, but Sir John Kirwan’s side are a formidable outfit at home.
That was proven in Round 11 with their impressive 21-13 victory over the Waratahs, despite conceding almost double the number of penalties their Australian rivals coughed up and enjoying less possession and territory.
One thing any team must be aware of when facing the Blues is their lighting quick ability to turn defence into attack, which was what made both their tries.
4. Chiefs Late Show Turns Sour
The champions’ woes on the road continued with a 41-23 defeat at the Brumbies.
In two games on tour in South Africa they had scored last-gasp tries to escape with a draw, but on this occasion their hunt for a face-saving bonus point went wrong with an interception pass that gifted Matt Toomua his second try of the game.
The Chiefs have surrendered top spot in the New Zealand conference and will struggle to make it three titles in a row with away form like this.
5. Force Can Do It Ugly
After their winning run ended in Melbourne last week, the Force provided the perfect response with a hard-fought win at home to the Bulls.
With six wins in their last seven games, the Force are find themselves in fourth spot in the table.
They have next week off before a tour of South Africa to face the Cheetahs and the Stormers in games that will test their playoff credentials.
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