Week five of the Super 14 saw another six games played which included some nail biters, some blow-outs and a very spirited come back. It is clear that the home ground advantage of the South African teams is as prevalent as ever as we have seen every team struggle while touring there. So far only four games have been lost by South African teams playing opposition from New Zealand or Australia at home. This means that the current power rankings could be a bit misleading as it is difficult to judge how team’s will go once they have to do their road trip, while teams that have started or completed their road trips may be slightly lower at the moment.
One area that still needs adressing is the referees interpretation at the breakdown. There is a very fine line between what is legal and illegal it seems. This is shown by inconsitency between different referee’s interpretation and the teams that have been winning have been the one’s that have been adapting to the referee’s the best. One incident that I thought best illustrated the fine line came in the Highlanders vs Bulls game. After having made a ‘gang tackle’ Matthew Berquist proceeded to take the ball off his man. Berquist was penalised for not releasing the tackler. The fact was however, that Berquist had had his hands on the ball the whole time. To me it would seem fine to rip the ball out of the man’s hands and if he’s been tackled and you’re the first man there to take, then you should have rights to the ball. But according to Jonathon Kaplin, you’re not. The trouble with this is the fact that half the referee’s would have let this go, while the other half wouldn’t. 12 months ago I’d say nearly all referee’s would have seen this as being fair enough. The new interpretation of the rule however has blown the game wide open and has left different referee’s seeing things differently which is something we want to try to clear up.
Anyway enough about the referee's and onto the teams. Lets have a look at this week's power rankings:
1. The Bulls(1): Last Week: Won vs Highlanders 50-35 Win/Loss: 4-0
The Bulls retain their top spot for the fifth week in a row. But their hold may be beginning to slip. They were far from brilliant in the weekend against a struggling Highlanders side who were missing three of their best players. In contrast to their previous three games, they had a superb start, notching up 21 points in just 12 minutes. It seemed as though they switched off after this however and ended up losing the second half 21-14. They retain their top spot due to a bonus point win but they may not hold it for too much longer. Holes may be beginning to appear in this Bulls side and they may be exposed once they have to play outside of the Republic.
Positives: Another 50 pointer bodes well for the Bulls. Simply fantastic start.
Negatives: The main issue for the Bulls is that at times their defence was simply atrocious against a Highlanders backline that has struggled to break the line in every other game they've played.
2. The Crusaders(2): Last Week: Won vs Chiefs 26-19 Win/Loss: 4-1
The Crusaders are playing typical Crusaders rugby. Nothing stands out in their game, but overall they look very good. Kahn Fotuali'i was outstanding in his first start of the season as he looked dangerous running and touched down for two tries. Daniel Carter again looks a class above the rest and their whole forward pack is wearing down every team they are playing and know how to get on top.
Positives: They continue to play winning rugby, which at the moment is what counts.
Negatives: They have had a reasonably easy draw so far, how they go in South Africa may determine where they finish this year.
3. The Stormers(5): Last Week: Won vs Hurricanes 37-13 Win/Loss: 4-1
The Stormers are the real deal this year. They have the best defence in the competition coupled with some dangerous backs. This is a recipe for causing all opponents some problems. They are another side who don't go on tour until later on but if they can maintain their form there is no reason why they shouldn't finish in the top four.
Positives: Defence is a big plus at the moment.
Negatives: Like the Crusaders, they haven't done their road trip yet so that can make them hard to judge. How they go there could make or break their season. No real negatives at the moment though.
4. The Reds(7): Last Week: Won vs Force 50-10 Win/Loss: 3-2
The Reds are looking good this year, their best chance of making the top four in years. A comprehensive win over the Force, along with their victory over the Chiefs last week, sees them jump three places in the power rankings this week. There back line looks very good with Will Genia and Quade Cooper stepping up and having great season's. Their forward pack hasn't been quite as dominant as their backs which gives them something to work on. Everything looks bright for the Reds at the moment though!
Positives: Their backline looks capable of cutting anyone to bits.
Negatives: They need to keep backing up their wins, consistency has been a problem after only winning three games out of five when the two losses were both games they could have won.
5. The Brumbies(6): Last Week: Won vs Sharks 24-22 Win/Loss: 4-1
With a 4-1 win-loss record you would expect the Brumbies to be higher, or at least above the Reds. The fact is though that the Brumbies are only winning these games and no more. They have beaten the Sharks and the Lions at home, both by small margins, who are both teams who the top teams in this competition will put away by a lot more than what the Brumbies did. They beat the Force in round one which doesn't earn too much praise as the only team that the Force looks like they will be competitive with so far will be the Lions. They did beat the Stormers in Cape Town though which can't be underestimated, although they were lucky in this game with a gift try from an intercept pass. So despite all of this, I have decided to place them at five because although the wins haven't been convincing, they have been winning which is all that matters at the end of the day.
Positives: Four wins looks good.
Negatives: May not look so good once they have to play the stronger New Zealand teams along with the Reds and the Waratahs.
6. The Waratahs(9): Last Week: Won vs Lions 73-12 Win/Loss: 3-2
The Waratahs jump three places this week after an eleven try massacre of the Lions. Despite a shaky start, they do look good, stringing two wins together for the first time this season. A team on the up, the next few weeks will be critical.
Positives: None after a 73-12 win.
Negatives: Like the Brumbies, their last two wins have come against weaker opposition, they will have to step it up against the stronger sides. Will they be able to do this? Time will tell.
7. The Hurricanes(4): Last Week: Lost vs Stormers 37-13 Win/Loss: 3-2
The Hurricanes fall harshly this week after a second consecutive loss. They have really not performed well on the road and the one positive that can come from the weekend's trouncing is that they did manage to score two tries against the Stormers, something no one else has done this season so far.
Positives: Road trip will be done after next week's match in Pretoria. I'm sure they will be looking forward to getting home as they really haven't looked good in the Republic.
Negatives: Inability to win games in South Africa may cost them this year. Whoever wants to win the championship is going to have to be capable of toppling the Bulls in Pretoria which has proved to be the hardest thing in rugby over the past two years.
8. The Chiefs(3): Last Week: Lost vs Crusaders 26-19 Win/Loss: 3-2
Maybe I jinxed them. The Chiefs have looked second rate since returning from South Africa. Two home losses in two weeks is enough to take you away from being in the top half of these rankings, enough said.
Positives: They have shown they are capable of winning with lots of fire power out wide and some very good loose forwards. They just need to rediscover that winning form that they displayed in South Africa.
Negatives: Inability to win away from home can at least be accepted, inability to win at home is criminal.
9. The Cheetahs(8): Last Week: Bye Win/Loss: 2-2
The Cheetahs fall this week due to the fact that the Waratahs proved too good to leave where they were. It seems harsh to drop them after the bye, but there is no reason why they can't get up next week and reclaim their spot higher up on the rankings. Not a lot else to say about the Cheetahs seeing as they've had the week off.
Positives: They return this week refreshed after the bye with a 50/50 record which is better than a lot of people had expected of them this year.
Negatives: Losing Heinrich Brussouw for the season is a huge blow.
10. The Blues(10): Last Week: Bye Win/Loss: 2-2
The Blues also had a bye in the weekend however I didn't see fit to put anyone in front of them. It will be interesting to see how they go in the coming weeks. They are a side of enormous potential with some very talented players. They just don't seem to function together all that well. This is going to be the key for the Blues if they are to challenge for a top four spot this year.
Positives: A week off may have been just what the Blues needed to get refreshed and to start playing some winning rugby after going 2-2 with a squad that suggests they should be doing better.
Negatives: As I say above, their players aren't gelling at the moment.
11. The Highlanders(11): Last Week: Lost vs The Bulls 50-35 Win/Loss: 1-4
The Highlanders start was terrible against the Bulls. After 12 minutes the game was effectively over being 21 points down. They showed some great fight to get back what they did, winning the second half against the competition's leading team. It was great to see their backline finally show what they are capable of scoring five tries, with their man of the match, Israel Dagg, scoring three. The Highlanders return home this week where they will take on the Sharks at Carisbrook in a game in which they will see as being very winnable.
Positives: They looked good during the last 60 minutes in the weekend. Backs showed some flair, scoring five tries and making the Bulls defence look second-rate.
Negatives: Playing well isn't good enough however. Winning is what matters in this competition and this seems to be something the Highlanders just haven't been able to do over the last few seasons.
12. The Sharks(12): Last Week: Lost vs The Brumbies 24-22 Win/Loss: 0-5
The thing that makes the Sharks hard to rate is that they have lost five games, but they haven't actually been playing that badly. They have been within five points of their opponents in four of their five games but the fact that they haven't won yet means that they have little, if any, chance of making the top four now.
Positives: They have stayed close in four of their games and have been playing some not bad rugby at times.
Negatives: Converting these close losses into wins is a must and like the Highlanders, it seems to be something that the Sharks just can't do.
13. The Force(14): Last Week: Lost vs The Reds 50-10 Win/Loss: 0-4
The Force rise one place this week. Not so much due to their own performance but more due to the performances of the Lions. They really looked out of their depth against the Reds and will continue to struggle.
Positives: There aren't a lot of positives you can take out of a 50-10 loss but the fact that they scored a try has to be seen as a positive rather than a negative.
Negatives: Where to begin?
14. The Lions(13): Last Week: Lost vs The Waratahs 73-12 Win/Loss: 0-5
The Lions have now had two games where they have let in 70+ points. You aren't going to win a championship with those sorts of score-lines and even the Force have been able to keep there opposition below this.
Positives: They have looked dangerous at times but really don't look as though they have what it takes to win this year.
Negatives: Their defence is terrible. It doesn't matter how many tries they score this year if they are going to let in 70 points.