Week 11 of the Super 14 and the Blue Machine is rumbling again
The top four remain unchanged, but the pecking order looks drastically different.
The Reds now look like serious contenders, but I still think they'll come unstuck as they've been very lucky over the last few weeks. The Bulls showed they will get back to form at fortress Loftus and will peak like they did last year. Both the Stormers and Crusaders will be sweating with crucial losses and tough games to finish with. They face each other next week in a mouth watering clash that may see the loser miss out on a semifinal spot.
The Waratahs, Brumbies, and Hurricanes can still hold hope, while the rest of the sides are only playing for pride now.
Chiefs (25) vs Cheetahs (25)
Juan Smith take a bow! What an awesome player. He is one of the strongest, most resilient players I've ever seen and the effect he has on his Cheetahs side is transformational.
The Chiefs, like they most of the season, simply cannot convert talent and opportunities into enough points to put sides away. Stephen Donald was disgraceful with his goal kicking. To miss as many attempts as he did let his side down, and that is not acceptable at this level. Mind you, it shows the players are only human and have off days. But his kicking has been poor much of the season.
The Cheetahs made plenty of tackles, and although they were inaccurate in attack, they displayed the attitude and heart that makes sides successful as they really wanted to win. That is what is required week in and week out at this level. It's something they usually only reserve when playing fellow South African sides.
Reds (16) vs Stormers (13)
Is it too much to ask for a fair contest? For the second week in a row the Reds were helped immensely by the ref. I'll even go so far as to say, they won this won because of the ref.
Well done to the Reds, they have been allowed to get away with murder at the breakdown and slow the opposition ball to nullify their attacks. The Stormers could get nothing going, because they were constantly being penalised. However when the Reds lay all over the ball, failed to roll away appropriately or the tackler simply kept his hands on the ball, referee Bryce Lawrence didn't do a thing.
For the second week in a row a South African captain was totally perplexed and frustrated. This was highlighted when Schalk Burger was told off by the ref for taking the law into his own hands (well Lawrence was certainly not doing anything about it).
Lawrence told Burger "that's two, one more and you're gone." It's the manner in which he said it that appalled me. In the second half a Reds player committed a cynical offence and doesn't even get a warning (let alone a yellow card).
The Stormers weren't smart enough to win this one, and they often looked the better side. The Reds got lucky for the second week with a kick that led to a try. It was the first time the Reds have beaten the Stormers in their last seven games.
It was also interesting to hear Will Genia say he definitely scored a try (that was not allowed because he was held up by a great Bryan Haban tackle). That's the aussie arrogance. TV replays showed it was clearly not a try. At this stage the Reds look like almost certain to be one of the semi-finalists whilst the Stormers still have a lot of work to do.
Force (24) vs Crusaders (16)
Perth is not a kind venue for the Crusaders and so it proved to be again. The Crusaders have been solid, but I feel they lack the all around class (especially in the backs) of their previous championship winning sides. On the road especially, that makes a difference.
The Force have gotten better and better as the season has progressed, and try extremely hard. They may not do the flash things, but it goes to show that if you focus on the basics, it provides a good platform. A thoroughly deserving victory and it puts the Crusaders under massive pressure on their read trip to South Africa.
Highlanders (31) vs Hurricanes (33)
The game started off very open with plenty of tries being scored. Thereafter errors started to creep into both sides play, and the skill level deteriorated.
The Hurricanes will be happy to keep their chances alive, and the Highlanders proved they are no easy beats on their home turf. They still have to play some important games against the Aussie sides, and cannot be taken lightly.
Waratahs (19) vs Brumbies (12)
I'm still waiting to see this attractive running rugby that the Aussies promised at the beginning of the year. They were instrumental in pushing for the new law interpretations, and as I've maintained, running ruby has more to do with attitude than the laws.
This was not a great spectacle, but once again the Waratahs showed they know how to win ugly. Their patience, ability to perform the basics and keep in front allowed them to grind out another victory whilst the "dream team" Brumbies remind one of the Stormers of the last few years where plenty of talent underperformed far too often.
Bulls (51) vs Lions (11)
The first half felt like the world had changed!
The Bulls lacked penetration, the Lions defended (yes they actually made all their tackles!) strongly and looked the more likely side whenever they had possession. Errors cost the Bulls whenever they threatened to gain momentum, and all they had to show for it were four penalties.
After halftime it was a different story. Like they have all season, the Bulls played better in the second half and dominated possession and territory and the Lions defended until they cracked. Central to the Bulls attack was field position and the ability to work towards lineouts in attacking positions.
The introduction of Jacques-Louis Potgieter brought the straight hard running that created space for the outside backs, and once on a roll the blue machine is hard to stop. However I did feel the Bulls were aided by ref Marius Jonker as he started to lose patience with the Lions.
It sets the Bulls up as they have a hard run home, but victory over the Sharks and Crusaders should see them finish in first spot meaning the last match at Newlands won't be so critical.
Bulls player ratings and match report
Sharks (23) vs Blues (10)
The Sharks dominated early, and for a side that had to score four tries to seriously remain in contention, they showed that although they try hard, they don't have the skill and creativity to score the required number of tries to be one of the top sides.
The Blues continued their weekly Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde act, producing another poor performance after last week's good one. Neither side can realistically expect to go through, and it is now the opportunity to build for the future.