The third week of the Super 14 saw every New Zealand side win, and only one each for the Aussies and South Africans!
Let's hope it is not a sign of things to come, but not much has changed from what we usually see. The Kiwis dominated their overseas competition, and all picked up bonus points. Meanwhile, the Aussies and South Africans were each bad at home and away from home.
The Bulls showed they are worthy defending champions and won't give up their crown easily, whilst the Stormers for all their promise failed once again at home in front of a large crowd. Every year they lose when they are expected to win, and this result will have a massive impact on their campaign.
The Cheetahs were disappointing, the Reds inconsistent, the Lions simply not quite good enough, the Sharks a disgrace, and the Force incompetent. Whoever thought 15 sides would be better than 14 was dreaming!
Crusaders (35) vs. Sharks (6)
What an inept display from a side full of Springboks. The Crusaders were made to look way better than they deserved by a side who barely resemble a rugby side. The basics of the game shouldn't be that hard to perform, especially in good conditions.
The Sharks will never win when their scrum constantly cannot hold steady and gets shunted backwards. It doesn't present front foot ball, but the problem when the Sharks do have the ball is they don't know what to do with it. Pienaar, for all his talent, still makes too many basic errors. The Sharks backline runs across field, and the backrow doesn't get enough forward momentum happening. It places far too much demand on individuals trying to produce something spectacular.
J.P. Pietersen has become one of the great defensive wingers, primarily because he never gets any ball to attack with. The Crusaders tried hard, but were also guilty of too many errors. However, they gained in confidence as their lead mounted, and launched the attack on the bonus point in the nick of time. This tour is going to be hell for the Sharks now, and this season will have shades of the year 2000 about it.
Stormers (17) vs. Brumbies (19)
Has anything changed at Newlands? The Stormers always lose games they are expected to win, often when they are coming off a good win and have managed to get a great crowd!
The Stormers dominated the match, and blew 3 or 4 great try scoring opportunities. I thought they were unfortunate to be denied by the TMO early on for what I thought should have been a fair try. Had it been given the whole complexion of the match could have changed. Instead the Stormers learnt what it means when you don't take the opportunities presented and you allow a side to remain in the contest.
The Brumbies were like a boxer backed onto the ropes, taking every blow and counter-punching when possible.
The second half was much the same, but the Stormers simply could not make the breakthough. In the end I think their attitude of going for the win was commendable, but their execution and tactics lacking. Running the ball from deep in their own half was foolish in such a tight game, and eventually a Stormers error gave the Brumbies the win.
This was a match the Stormers lost, as opposed to the Brumbies winning. Jaque Fourie made 2-3 errors that were costly, and Bryan Habana constantly got pinged by ref Craig Joubert. Whilst I sympathise with him, you have to be smarter and not give the ref any reason to penalise you as it is too costly.
A possible turning point in the match was the substitution of Ricky Januarie for Dewald Duvenhage. Whilst Duvenhage is a great talent and kicks and tackles well, Januarie controlled possession better and marshaled his side well. The Stormers lost structure and moved away from their game plan in the final quarter. Mind you the leadership in the Stormers forwards, and even Peter Grant and Jaque Fourie need to acknowledge they didn't make the right calls under pressure.
Hopefully the lessons will be learnt. But it's an all too familiar position the Stormers find themselves in after three weeks. And the loss of valuable home log points may be too much to make up at the business end of the season!
The Brumbies will be mightily pleased to have gotten another win on the road. I'm surprised how ineffective they look with ball in hand. I thought the Aussies wanted to run everything, why did Ashley-Cooper kick so much possession back. In the end they were the right tactics however, and something the Stormers can learn from.
Hurricanes (33) vs. Lions (18)
A well deserved five points to the Hurricanes, but the Lions made it far too easy for them. The Lions defence was better than the previous week, showing greater commitment and sting, but they allowed themselves to be put under pressure far too often with poor option taking, bad handling and the wrong tactics.
On attack, the Lions did not look quite as dangerous as on the highveld, although they'll be pleased with their ability to string together greater phases and ask more questions of the defence. Perhaps their loose forwards just need to get them over the advantage line more often.
The Hurricanes have looked dangerous again this season and after three rounds, are very handily placed towards the top of the log.
Reds (18) vs. Blues (27)
After a win last week, the Reds lacked the spark needed to produce a second victory. The Blues were able too dominate and control the game. The loss of James Horwill may have been the missing element for the Reds forwards.
The Reds did pose a lot of danger through their halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper, but their side could not capitalize on their breaks and running ability.
The Blues will be pleased to get a win on the road, including a vital bonus point late in the game.
Force (19) vs. Chiefs (37)
The Chiefs completed a great away trip with another bonus point victory. Initially the loose approach by sides produced plenty of errors and handling mistakes. Early penalties were exchanged before the Chiefs opened a lead resulting from two sloppy Force lineouts.
The game remained close until the last quarter where the Chiefs were able to pull away and nab the bonus point try in the 77th minute. The Chiefs gained 14 out of 15 log points on the road and now return in great position to their base in Hamilton.
For the Force, that was their second home loss already in what will be a long season.
Cheetahs (24) vs. Highlanders (31)
The Cheetahs were very disappointing after having beaten the Sharks. Ill-discipline and poor defence led to penalties and the Highlanders were able to get on the front foot.
Poor handling led to a runaway try, and once the Highlanders had built a handy lead, the Cheetahs found it tough to play catch up. With 15 minutes left there was only a 2 point gap, but the Highlanders benefited from playing the game at the right end of the field and capitalising on Cheetahs mistakes.
A late try from Juan Smith made a draw possible. But it was the Cheetahs under pressure who found themselves on defence and thankfully ensuring the Highlanders didn't get the bonus point try.
Bulls (48) vs. Waratahs (38)
The Bulls has to work hard to maintain their 13 match unbeaten record at Loftus.
Down 17-0 early in the game and 16 points midway through the first half, the Bulls exhibited great courage and confidence to produce a stirring comeback. Whilst their attacking prowess was brilliant, it was also the defence just before and after half-time that won this game, coupled with a flawless kicking display from Morne Steyn!
The Bulls now have a week off, and probably only need another 6 wins from 10 league games.