CAPE TOWN – While Chiefs coach Colin Cooper is trying to get his team to focus and not get “bored” in their Super Rugby quarter-final, the South African teams should have a very different goal as they head into the play-offs.
To perform - the Lions and the Sharks need to perform.
Against the Hurricanes on Friday, the Chiefs were 21-0 up at one stage, but only held on to win 28-24.
In their last three games, Cooper’s team have totalled 80 unanswered points in the first half, only to concede 65 points in the second, a statistic that makes their tailing-off habit a concern.
There will of course be no second chances this week, and Cooper wants his team to keep their focus when they meet the Hurricanes again, this time in the first play-off match at Westpac Stadium on Friday.
“Sometimes playing big exit plays and just kicking the ball ... these guys get a little bored playing like that, and they feel they’ve got to start running things,” Cooper said of his team’s recent showings.
“So it’s just that balance. Not cutting their wings, but just sticking to our structure a bit better than we have been.”
So that’s what the Chiefs need to zoom in on this weekend - constantly applying the pressure and producing an 80-minute performance.
And hoping your team do not get bored, after dominating the first half, is probably not the worst problem you can have.
But the Lions, and especially the Sharks, need to zoom in on performing well. It’s needed after what has been a rather tough year for local teams.
I guess there’s not a lot of criticism that can be fairly directed at the Lions. They are South Africa’s best team, and reaching the play-offs three years running supports that statement.
Could they have done better this season? Sure. But locally, their impressive 21-match winning streak (which was recently ended by the Sharks) over their countrymen also shows they are leading the pack, undoubtedly.
And as good as the Lions’ results are compared to local teams, the fact is if the Super Rugby format was one which actually made sense, the Lions - who are second on the overall log - would be way down on the combined table.
The Sharks, on the other hand, won just seven of their 16 matches, and on that statistic alone they probably can’t be given much of a chance against the Crusaders in Christchurch, a team which lost just two games this season, making it three losses in both 2017 and 2018 combined.
The Sharks have also unnecessarily made things hard for themselves at times this season, as they did in their away game against the Stormers, which they lost. And there can be none of that in New Zealand this weekend.
This season again exposed all the flaws of the Super Rugby format. And it’s also been one in which the South African teams have underperformed when it came to getting the results (the Stormers and the Bulls have only won six each, while the Sharks’ tally isn’t much better).
So, as the Lions and the Sharks go into the quarter-finals against the Jaguares and the Crusaders respectively, let’s hope they produce something to at least give South Africans something to smile about for the semi-final weekend.