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Four things the United Rugby Championship taught SA teams this weekend

Damian Willemse of the Stormers. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Damian Willemse of the Stormers. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Published Feb 28, 2022

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This weekend saw all South African team in action in the United Rugby Championship. IOL Sport’s Morgan Bolton looks at four lessons the SA teams were taught on tour.

WILLEMSE CENTRE OF ATTENTION

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It’s a rugby tale as old as time - the curse of versatility.

The Stormers game, or more so the result, against Connacht was a frustrating one, mainly thanks to the stellar job done by Ben Blair.

That aside, one of the highlights of the match was the performance of Damian Willemse. He owned that No 12 spot.

After being initially named at fullback, the Springbok back moved to 12 after Dan du Plessis was withdrawn due to delayed post-concussion syndrome.

Willemse was simply outstanding, and his display was made even better by the fact that his on-the-day position was a late switch.

But for all the good he did, one can’t help but wonder if his superb outing in midfield will reinforce talks or consideration of him being used there.

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His balling ability is unquestionable, but will his versatility do more harm than good in terms of him eventually settling in one position?

ALSO READ: Steven Kitshoff upset Stormers didn’t get any reward from the referee for their maul

BOSCH FAR TOO DEEP

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An important takeaway from the Sharks’ imperfect win over Benetton is that playing Curwin Bosch comes at a price.

The selection of Bosch surprised many because he had been frozen out of the side because of poor form, and coach Sean Everitt explained that he had brought the 24-year-old back to do a specific job, and that was to kick goals and to put the Sharks into the right areas of the field. Bosch did as he was tasked but the other side of the Bosch coin is that he does not bring his backs into play enough.

He stands too deep, in the pocket, and takes the ball standing still.

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This gives his outside backs little momentum while giving the opposition defence plenty of time to read the play. Earlier in his career, he took the ball much closer to the advantage line but he has got deeper as his confidence has waned.

ALSO READ: Sharks need more moments of flash and less mediocrity

BULLS: A PARADOXICAL VICTORY

It might seem unfair to criticise the Bulls, after all they beat Zebre 45-7 in Parma, but the men from Pretoria should have won the match by a far larger margin.

The Italian club are a poor outfit, and have not won a match in 20 attempts and remain firmly rooted to the bottom of the URC standings with one point after eight matches. However, the Bulls suffered from a bout of inaccuracy during the first half and failed to capitalise on their chances to lead at half-time 17-7, exasperated by a silly yellow card sanction to Marcell Coetzee.

Nevertheless, the victory could be an important touchstone this season.

With no SA franchise scheduled this weekend in the tournament, the victory will give them a few more days to work on their execution. They have a four-match home schedule coming up at Loftus Versveld, starting on Match 12 against Munster, and followed by Scarlets, Dragons and Ulster.

ALSO READ: Bulls are still alive in United Rugby Championship - Jake White after bonus-point win over Zebre

CUBS WILL BE ALPHAS

The Lions might not have any current Springboks in their squad, or lack a degree of experience in veteran players, but they no doubt have a corps of extremely exciting young talent.

And it was on display again on Friday night against Leinster with Baby Boks Ruan Venter and Quan Horn having notable outings. Flanker Venter had a busy evening in attack and defence, but was especially impressive with ball in hand while taking on the Leinster line. Horn, meanwhile, was solid at the back and was unafraid of taking on Leinster with probing runs. Jordan Hendrikse, meanwhile, made a return to the starting XV after injury and although a bit inaccurate in the opening stages of the match, grew in confidence as the match progressed.

This is a young Lions side, and developing their young talents might be a long road with little immediate reward, but it certainly will pay off dividends in the future, regardless of where they eventually ply their trade.

Ashfak Mohamed’s Best XV: 15 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche

Mike Greenaway’s Best XV: 15 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 14 Cornal Henrdiks, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Morne van den Berg, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Adre Smith, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Ox Nche

Wynona Louw’s Best XV: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Adre Smith, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff

@FreemanZAR

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