CAPE TOWN – Wynona Louw highlights five flashpoints from the weekend's Super Rugby action, at home and abroad.
1 Willemse is the real deal.
If anybody still doubted Damian Willemse’s rugby playing abilities for whatever reason, I think it’s about time that those sceptics sit down and find someone else to discredit. The young flyhalf’s attacking prowess doesn’t even need to be discussed, and the way he went on Saturday once again showed his exceptional defensive ability, his work rate, his physicality and his on-field presence that cannot easily be matched.
And his work off the tee? His perfect, seven-out-of-seven record showed that there’s no issues there either. Willemse perfectly combines attacking mastery, rock-solid defence, and X-factor in abundance, and it’s great to see his game continuously develop.
2 Inconsistency is all that’s keeping the Stormers back.
If there is one thing the Stormers proved on Saturday, it’s that they can play. They buried a number of their Australasia tour demons - demons in the form of not being able to perform for the full 80, not being able to close a game out, terrible lineouts, creating attacking opportunities only for that last pass to go astray, questionable defence, and so on.
But against the Blues, Robbie Fleck’s flu-hit team showed that they can be a class outfit if they get it right. They showed it last year as well, like when they beat the Chiefs in fantastic style at Newlands, but their biggest ailment has been their inability to perform like that consistently. If they can get that right, I don’t see how it can’t only go better for the Stormers.
The Mitch effect is showing.
Okay, so the Bulls’ work against the Chiefs didn’t have the desired outcome, but what the men from Pretoria were able to achieve in the first half was simply spectacular. The Bulls’ attacking play in the first half was breathtaking.
The way they timed their passes and seemed to just know when to let the ball go and when to hold onto it, the way they created and exploited space, their support play, their decision-making and just their general movement was very, very impressive. And it’s also clear - judging by the individual performances - that the Bulls players’ games are seriously developing under John Mitchell.
4 Should the Lions be worried?
As I said last week, after the Lions’ loss to the Blues, going into a state of panic after one poor game is unnecessary.
And while I still believe that the Lions’ season can’t be deemed over because they were lucky to escape an embarrassing defeat to the Sunwolves at the weekend, it’s very clear that something is seriously lacking in the Johannesburg camp. Whether their recent lacklustre outings are the result of them missing the presence of the likes of Warren Whiteley or some other malfunction, the pride of South African rugby needs to fix what’s broken. And quickly.
5 New Zealand still far ahead
What a game that was between the Highlanders and the Crusaders! The intensity both teams played with made it hard to believe that they were still standing and able to perform like that into the second half of an electric battle. Both sides scored some sensational tries, and the kind of enterprising play we saw in between those five-pointers gave a very clear indication that New Zealand still rule the rugby world. And judging by what we saw in Dunedin at the weekend, it’s unlikely that they’ll get dethroned any time soon.