Super Rugby Weekly Opinion

Super Rugby 2015 | SA Men

In his defence I would've said that any change new Cheetahs' coach Franco Smith might make to his team's fortunes would only become evident much later as he settles in as coach. There was no need for such an excuse as it seemed an immediate difference had taken effect at the Cheetahs as they took on the Bulls at Loftus. There was no hint of standing back this time around as the Cheetahs surged to build an early lead, looking as though they had wrapped up the game by half-time. It was still the Cheetahs of old loving to throw the ball around a lot, but they were precise and scored from every opportunity, and never allowed the Bulls to play in the early stages of the game. Willie le Roux was at his best, his vision and wide distribution seeing the Cheetahs cross the try-line a couple of times. Le Roux's opposite, Jessie Kriel, was just as good, with strong runs and counter attacking from the back that gave the Bulls valuable points in their second half fight back, and the presence of replacement fly-half Tian Schoeman didn't hurt either. One man that was colossal for the Cheetahs, as he had been this entire season, was Boom Prinsloo.  He is woefully underrated against some of the other loose forwards in the country and if his work rate was taken as a minimum requirement for a Springbok jersey, many of our loosies this season would just not make the cut. While the Cheetahs functioned brilliantly as a unit it was the efforts of Boom in the tackle and at the breakdown that choked any hope of the Bulls building a head of steam. When Boom left the field in the second half, the Bulls finally got some breathing room, but by then the game was out of reach. By sending a second string team, the Stormers ensured that the last South African derby was a watered down affair, although was a still a good send-off for the trio of Willem Alberts and the du Plessis brothers.  The T.M.O. had to make two calls I'm glad I didn't have to, one in particular where it seemed both the attacking and defending player grounded a loose ball behind the try-line simultaneously.  The spirit of the game however should always lean slightly in favour of the attacking team so the benefit of the doubt was not undeservedly awarded to the Sharks.  Some sense was restored to the world when the Sharks took a more commanding lead by the end of the game, having struggled in the first half. For the first play-off fixtures Catrakilis will be back for the Stormers against the Brumbies as his boot will be critical for a victory if these two sides' last encounter is anything to go by. It has been confirmed that the Stormers will be without Captain Duane Vermeulen which will seriously dent their chances. Don't expect them to be any less determined, as simply making the play-offs will not be enough for a Cape side that has defied all speculation of a season languishing behind other local franchises. The Stormers should be well rested and the Brumbies might be a bit battered after the Crusaders' game. At home, the Stormers should at least make it past the first round, even if they have to deploy some ear plugs to avoid the nuisance of the Brumbies' Super Mario look-alike, scrumhalf Nic White, who as a Aussie commentator pointed out recently: "...will just not shut up for even five minutes..."  The other semi final will be in Dunedin between the Chiefs and the Highlanders. The Highlanders were in flying form against the Blues while Chiefs fell short to the Hurricanes in a way that might indicate they are not quite contenders for the title as they were in previous years. That however hardly excludes them from winning a knock-out fixture on any given day. The best of Highlanders I feel, with the likes of Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa and Patrick Osborne have just enjoyed a better season than their direct opponents this weekend, and if their form is anything to by, the Highlanders should win.