Super Rugby Weekly Opinion

Super Rugby 2015 | SA Men

On Saturday morning the Highlanders confirmed their Super Rugby challenge by dispatching the Chiefs at Dunedin.  The crowd, filled with the so-called Zoo of the local campus offered a rather hostile environment for the visiting team.  With the opening stages of what was a running game throughout only being rewarded with three pointers, Andrew Horrell found it hard kicking for posts at first and so the Chiefs didn’t get the strangle hold necessary to contain their opposition. The two Smiths of the Highlanders, Ben and Aaron, have been sublime this season, and Aaron provided the means for two Highlander tries by breaking to the blind, on both occasions giving the ball to Waisake Naholo, who has also been a star for them. On the Chiefs’ side there was not much to celebrate, except maybe for the return of lock Brodie Retallick, who had built up some steam in the second half and threatened to force a Chief’s win all on his own. The Highlanders however came out as deserving winners.

The hopes of the Stormers to try and win three pay-off games on the trot was diminished as soon as the first images of the stadium was being showed. There was something ominous to Newlands only filling to half its capacity for this important game, after it had been pretty much full for every other game. Did the fans know what was coming? With the news being broken that Schalk Burger would not be featuring in addition to Captain Duane Vermeulen there must’ve been some seeds of doubt throughout Newlands.

But even without Burger and Vermeulen it looked like the Stormers did not prepare for the Brumbies the way they should’ve. It was as though they assumed that the rolling maul would be utilized overwhelmingly and that they didn’t expect the Brumbies to lift their game in play-off fixture. Add to that the Stormers, after struggling the entire season with their line-outs, failed to address the problem yet again and that combined with silly kicks and pointless rolling mauls doomed themselves to certain defeat. This type of stagnation is evident in a couple of our teams and it smacks of a lack of professionalism.   Suffice it to say Joe Tomane destroyed the Stormers on attack, he in particular having a tremendous game and almost scoring four tires.  The Brumbies very cleverly went to the blindside on many occasions, where the Stormers found themselves at sixes and sevens in defense. As expected David Pocock was ever the satellite for the rugby ball, never being too far from the action, and moved in as soon as the ball hit the ground to choke any form of Stormers possession.

One man that did stand up on the day was Damian de Allende who, given his stats in a game where the Stormers were utterly overwhelmed probably warrants the making of an action figure for the guy, even if it’s only available in shops in the Cape Town vicinity. While his missed tackle on Tevita Kuridrani sums up a frail area in his tackling game, the attacking force he represents, being a juggernaut in contact and often surprising defenders with his quick change of direction, largely overshadows it.

For the Semi-Finals the Brumbies will fly back east to face the largely unstoppable Hurricanes, where I will be mainstream in my expectations and predict that the Hurricanes will blow them away. Although Stephen Larkham is showing signs of becoming a coach with the same shrewdness he showed in his playing days, so don’t discount his team of providing one of the upsets of the year.  The Highlanders will have to face the Waratahs in Sydney, but they should still win the team in light blue, who with all their inconsistencies somehow got themselves in a play-off spot, above let’s say, a team like the Lions. If all goes to plan we should see a New Zealand final, which would be an accurate reflection of this year’s strongest conference, but is hopefully no indication of who boasts the strongest chance at the World Cup.