It was another weekend of woe for South Africa’s Super Rugby sides. The Stormers and Bulls lost again, as did the Sharks – at home, mind you – but the Cheetahs produced their best performance of the season to move off the foot of the points table.
The Stormers’ disappointing season continued in Bloemfontein when, after making a positive start against the Cheetahs, they shipped five tries to crash 35-22. The Bulls lost to the Western Force in Perth and return home having suffered four straight defeats abroad, while the Sharks – like the Bulls – failed to score a try in their match against the Highlanders and now have to contemplate a four-match overseas tour.
Worryingly, no South African team have won abroad this season. Stormers boss Allister Coetzee said the big injury toll has played a big part in the South African teams’ struggles this year.
“When there are so many injuries your depth gets tested. A lot of players in the middle bracket are injured or have left South Africa, so you’re getting guys who haven’t even played Currie Cup rugby having to play in the Super Rugby competition. It’s a good learning curve for them, but it’s a tough competition to be learning in,” said Coetzee after his side’s defeat to the Cheetahs.
“This is the main reason why we haven’t won overseas this year. But maybe the Sharks and Lions can pull off a win or two.”
Coetzee, though, added South African fans shouldn’t equate poor Super Rugby form with how the Springboks will go this year. “We don’t have to worry ... there’s no relevance at all,” he said.
If there was big-scale disappointment in the camps of the Sharks, Bulls and Stormers, the Cheetahs at least had plenty to cheer about on Saturday. With Heinrich Brüssow leading the way up front and Willie le Roux in magical form at the back, Naka Drotske’s men overturned a 10-0 deficit inside 10 minutes to score five tries against arguably one of the best defences in the competition, to register a second win this year.
Drotske labelled the performance “perfect”. “We were good on attack and defence,” said a delighted Drotske.
“To score five tries against the Stormers, who have a very good defensive system, is very pleasing. We let a few games slip this year after leading at half-time, but we didn’t do it this time.
Cheetahs skipper Adriaan Strauss was also smiling for a change. “We were able to put some phases together and hold on to the ball,” he said. “Gaps don’t open up in first phase play, but only after a few phases, and we managed to hold on to the ball long enough for those gaps to open up.”
Coetzee said his players were “hurting” after another defeat, but that there were positives to take out of his side’s performance. “We asked questions with ball in hand and some of the players really performed well. Cornal Hendricks’ try (in the 71st minute when the Cheetahs were just eight points ahead, but the Stormers were in the ascendancy) was the killer blow.”
Jean de Villiers agreed. “Cornal’s try was a 14-point swing, Juan de Jongh was held up over the line and Duane Vermeulen was called for obstruction when we scored a try ... but it’s not all doom and gloom.”
The Sharks and Lions kick off their overseas tour this weekend, while the Bulls host the Cheetahs and the Stormers entertain the Highlanders.
Cheetahs 35, Stormers 22; Force 15, Bulls 9; Hurricanes 35, Reds 21; Sharks 18, Highlanders 34; Brumbies 41, Chiefs 23; Blues 21, Waratahs 13
Friday: Blues v Reds; Rebels v Sharks
Saturday: Crusaders v Brumbies; Chiefs v Lions; Waratahs v Hurricanes; Stormers v Highlanders; Bulls v Cheetahs - The Star