CAPE TOWN - Mark Keohane has looked at the positives and negatives from the past weekend's round of Super Rugby fixtures.
1. I thought the Highlanders' home victory against the Crusaders a few weeks ago could easily be a preview of the 2018 final later this year. But watching the Hurricanes beat the Highlanders in Wellington, I thought that could be the 2018 final. Three doesn’t go into two so take your pick of the three, but two of them will be making up an all New Zealand final. The rugby skill, the defensive intensity and the general spectacle was sensational. This was Super Rugby as it should be played, led by the freakish attacking talents of All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Waisake Naholo.
2. Damian Willemse backed up his performance against the Blues with a strong game against the Reds, but the best South African flyhalf display came from Elton Jantjies in Buenos Aires. Jantjies was not the reason the Lions lost, but he was primary to the Lions' second half fight back that put them within four points of the victors with five minutes to play. Jantjies's goalkicking was immaculate, he played very flat on attack and varied his game with astute use of the boot. Willemse is a wonderful talent but don’t discard Jantjies’ form because over five rounds it has been the best of the South African No 10s.
3. The Springbok squad against England will include foreign-based South Africans and Frans Steyn will lead that group. Steyn was again masterful in Montpellier’s Top 14 table-topping success at the weekend. Don’t rule out the veteran scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar either. He has been superb for Montpellier and he could be the perfect squad selection to play and mentor the likes of Bulls No 9 Embrose Papier.
1. Australia’s Reds rugby team were as big a cheat as their national cricket sporting colleagues with the most cynical of performances at Newlands. While the cricketers admitted to premeditated cheating, you won’t find anyone in the Reds camp owning up. So, in the absence of half their team being stood down for cheating in most areas of the game, at least one of them is in the dock for a thuggish act of cowardice. Taniela Tupou’s late and head high no arms hit on Craig Barry was disgusting and warranted an immediate red. Equally shocking was how South African referee Marius van der Westhuizen saw it, noted it and then never went back to it. Tupou was cited for a red card offence. Van der Westhuizen should also be red carded as a referee. He isn’t up to it.
2. Sharks coach Robert du Preez spoke of starting well against the Rebels and insisting a good start would translate to victory. Well, the start was as impotent and innocuous as it was in Canberra a week earlier. The Sharks were bullied physically, only had 30 percent of the ball in the first quarter and defensively a mess in missing 12 tackles during the period. I picked the Sharks to be South Africa’s best team on the quality of players in the squad. But they are proving paper tigers and in Melbourne they were an insult to the jersey.
3.The Bulls got just one solitary league point from three successive defeats in Australia and New Zealand. They combined for just one seven pointer in the second half of all three matches and lost by 19 points in Christchurch against the Crusaders. The honeymoon period for coach John Mitchell is well and truly over. The declining Super Rugby standards in South African rugby is evident at just how much praise there is for a team that takes such a beating on tour. It’s madness to applaud mediocrity.
Mark Keohane is an award-winning rugby journalist, former Springbok Communications Manager, founder of Keo.co.za and the author of five best selling rugby books.