CAPE TOWN – IOL Sport's Wynona Louw shares some of her talking points from the weekend's rugby action:
1 Back to basics
Get the basics right and you can’t go wrong. - Okay, so that statement was more applicable to the Highlanders’ first half against the Waratahs than their second, but in a general sense, it still applies. If there’s one thing the Highlanders’ opening try in the third quarter-final showed, it’s how a rugby basic, when done well, can result in a piece of play that is absolutely superb.
That’s what the visitors got right in the first half - they executed the basics well - so well that they made some of their attacking moves appear stunning yet effortless - and their clinical approach gave them the upper hand before the break. Highlanders pivot Lima Sopoaga gave an illustration when he held onto the ball while assessing his options, before hitting the gap, holding his pass just long enough and drawing his defender in before putting Waisake Naholo on his outside away to score their opening try. It was just basic stuff done really, really well.
2 Puzzling appointments continue
When will Sanzaar see that there might be some sense in appointing neutral refs? In the weekend’s Super Rugby quarter-final games, it was almost as if the southern hemisphere governing body tried to stick it to the neutral-ref parade.
Australian ref Angus Gardner took charge of the Waratahs-Highlanders game, Kiwi Mike Fraser officiated the Crusaders vs Sharks fixture, Jaco Peyper had the whistle when the Lions hosted the Jaguares and Glen Jackson was the man in the middle when the Hurricanes took on the Chiefs, but that was a different case.
What made these appointments even worse is the fact the hosts got a local official. It of course makes sense to want the top refs to take charge of the big games, but they could have easily juggled those appointments around a bit (but saving on traveling costs seems to be more important than avoiding accusations of bias, or eradicating any room for bias, for that matter).
3 Malcolm Marx the spot
How massive was Malcolm Marx this weekend? The firing hooker’s work at the breakdown - in addition to a number of other fine touches, including his intercept try - was instrumental as he won a number of crucial turnovers.
It’s everything Marx does that makes him one of the best rugby players in the world...regardless of position. It was also pleasing to see Elton Jantjies control the game the way he did, while his pin-point kick-pass to Ruan Combrinck - even under immense pressure from the Jaguares’ defensive line - his try-assisting passes, and his work off the tee showed he possesses talent and skill that cannot be doubted.
4 Super Rugby title Crusaders’ to lose and defend...again
The Crusaders’ latest display of dominance against the Sharks makes it hard to picture any other team winning - or being more deserving of - the Super Rugby title.
Sure, the Sharks didn’t do themselves any favours, but the way the Crusaders used their opposition’s misfortune to their advantage just again showed their class. They’re an extremely well-coached, star-studded team, and it will take an effort of note to dethrone them.
5 The magic of the inside ball
It’s a beauty that was put on show a good few times this weekend, particularly in the Waratahs’ outing against the Highlanders. Two of the Waratahs’ big three perfectly illustrated the magic of the inside ball in their quarter-final.
At the start of the Waratahs’ massive comeback triumph, Kurtley Beale gave a top offload to Bernard Foley on his inside to score right under the posts. And the third corner of the Waratahs’ potent player triangle, Israel Folau added a stunner of an inside pass to his rangy runs to open up some space for Nick Phipps, before Phipps sent the ball to Foley on his outside to dive over. The inside ball can be a wonderful addition when it comes to attacking interplay. It’s an art. And it’s something the ‘Tahs made proper use of.