The fifth week of the Super 14, and 2 South African sides top the log! Mind you 2 bring up the rear as well!
The Bulls and Stormers have a completely different philosophy and style, but both are mighty effective and deserve their positions at the top of the log. Both are set nicely before having to tour overseas, and should make the semi-finals if they maintain form.
The Chiefs have been derailed in recent weeks, and sides have shown how to nullify their strengths. The Crusaders were brilliant in executing the game plan early on, and if they maintain that sort of intensity and execution will challenge for a home semi-final once again. Their season may be determined by how well they tour South Africa.
The Hurricanes, Brumbies and Waratahs may all be fighting for the last semi-final spot, with all 3 sides blowing hot and cold.
Chiefs (19) v Crusaders (26)
The match started off at a tremendous pace as both sides tried to run the other around. It was surprising tactics from the Crusaders who had a strong wind behind them, but it paid dividends as they used great interplay between their loose forwards and backs out wide. Their offloading in the tackle and ball handling was superb, as good as any side has produced all season.
Zac Guilford, the crusaders left wing was superb, coming off his wing effectively and showing a massive workrate. He constantly threatened the Chiefs defence and got the Crusaders going forward.
The Chiefs were made to look quite ordinary, showing that if you take them on in the forwards and dominate, you hold the key to victory.
Light rain at the beginning of the second half made handling more difficult and the skill level decreased, but the Crusaders always kept a handy lead and made the Chiefs play catch up.
In the end a good result for the South African sides with the Crusaders denied a bonus point and unfortunately the Chiefs got theirs for finishing within seven, but their early season results have been nullified by losing two at home.
Waratahs (73) v Lions (12)
The Lions produced one of their worst ever Super rugby displays to make the Waratahs look like world beaters. They've never beaten the Waratahs in Sydney, and surely something has to change. You can;t just keep sending a side to Australia and New Zealand to make up the numbers.
They pretty much turned this into a contact training session for the Waratahs. Everytime they did something right, they'd do something so poor you wonder how these guys can call themselves professionals. Poor scrums, not kicking the penalty out, knock ons, forward passes etc etc. There was certainly no evidence of a side improving this season.
The Waratahs should be commended for running the ball, and entering into the spirit of the game by opting to run and turn down kicks at goal. But perhaps that says more about how the Waratahs simply didn't see them as a threat at all, especially given how conservative they have been.
Carlos Spencer is a has been, clearly he lacks the conditioning to compete at this level and looks to hide on defence. His option taking is poor, although he doesn't have a great centre combination to help him out. It's also puzzling that one of the best Lions players this season Jacques Coetzee was dropped and JP Joubert remains as starting flyhalf. I've also though Burton Francis looks composed and organises the side better. Surely the form players have to play?
In the end however tackling wins games. 72 points against the Chiefs and 71 here. That is just not good enough. The players must spend a few weeks learning to tackle, tackle, tackle. Actually defence is more about attitude than anything else, so maybe that says something about this Lions side. Jeez, they were the best side in the world in the 90's...
Brumbies (24) v Sharks (22)
Most Sharks supporters will once again consider their side unlucky, but you can't win super rugby games by scoring 1 try, an opportunistic effort by Ruan Pienaar at that.
The Sharks once again looked non-threatening on attack, ran laterally, and kicked far too much possession away. Much of their problem starts with Stefan Terblanche who nullifies the attack by constant kicking. He needs to be rested, or resort to running the ball back as he did in the last 20 minutes against the Waratahs. Like the rest of the side he is inhibited by trying not to lose as opposed to seeking to win.
Both sides defences were made to look good because neither side were able to construct much in attack. Although the Brumbies made a few line breaks, they also lack any finishing ability, and they could only score 2 tries through prop Ben Alexander.
Crucially the Sharks denied the Brumbies a bonus point who won't make the semi-finals without them.
Thankfully now the Sharks can accept they are out of the competition and can lose their fear of failure and build for the future with much less pressure to contend with. They even just win a game or two along the way!
Bulls (50) v Highlanders (35)
The Bulls started strongly before taking their foot off the accelerator as the match was over as a contest after the first quarter.
The Highlanders gave full effort for the entire match and were rewarded with 5 tries. Israel Dagg had a great game and showed how dangerous he can be.
However like the Bulls of old, the home side started strongly and set up the win with great intensity and execution with strong forward play and straight hard running from the backs.
The Bulls are deserving log leaders and now just need to beat the Hurricanes to set themselves up nicely for the overseas tour.
Stormers (37) v Hurricanes (13)
The Stormers showed they play a completely different game to the Bulls, but can be just as effective.
Their defence is superb. The fact the Hurricanes could not score more than 3 points for 68 minutes of the match set up the win. Whenever the Stormers miss a tackle or make an error, they come back stronger and force the error. The Hurricanes could have scored a couple of tries, but the Stormers showed great desperation and cover defence.
The attack was built around a superb kicking game from Dewald Duvenhage, and excellent chasing.
The Stormers showed much better ability to take the ball through phases and ask more questions in defence. I thought you could see the plan and instructions given from the coaching stuff. There were a lot less 50/50 and pop up passes given. Rather they took the ball to ground and set up the next phase.
At times the opportunity was on for speculative passes, but the Stormers showed trust and patience in the game plan. They were rewarded with 5 quality tries.
Sireli Naqelevuki has gone a massive transformation. It's amazing what confidence and conditioning do for a player. His work-rate is high, but his strength and abililty to run through players is massive. Ask Cory Jane, who was carted off after being bulldozed by the big Fijian winger.
The Stormers, like the Bulls, need one final solid showing before heading overseas. Importantly they are a side on the rise, and are getting better and better.
Reds (50) v Force (10)
The Reds smashed the Force by 40 points in their Sunday afternoon match at Suncorp stadium.
The Reds produced back to back wins for the first time since 2006, and also achieved their biggest winning margin in the history of super rugby.
The Force showed they lack the class and depth to compete at this level. When you don't have a grass-roots competition to pick players from, you will always struggle when a few injuries (or defections) appear.
It also highlights the folly of wanting to expand the competition to 15 sides in 2011 when Australia is struggling to currently produce 4 sides. A 5th side from a non-rugby playing state is likely to be a disaster.