CAPE TOWN – With the Cape Town side returning to their familiar winning ways at home, and defending champions Crusaders showing why they should be taken seriously this season, rugby scribe Mark Keohane shares some of his Super Rugby raves. He also has a few choice words (Rants) for some of the men who carried the whistle this past weekend.
1: Damian de Allende’s steamroll of Rebels flyhalf Jack Debreczeni was brutal. This was De Allende at his destructive best. Debreczeni is one of the biggest flyhalves in the game. He is 1.92 metres tall and weighs 100 kilograms. De Allende’s hip power and upper-body strength put the Auckland-born Rebels No 10 on his backside and resulted in the Stormers midfielder scoring.
De Allende was also integral in setting up JJ Engelbrecht’s last minute bonus-point try. De Allende has copped a lot of criticism in the past two seasons, but his 2018 form is starting to mirror his splendid 2014 international year.
2: On Thursday, 6 November, 2014, the Irish Times featured Springbok and Bulls flyhalf Handre Pollard with the following headline: “The rise and rise of Handre Pollard the gifted young Springbok outhalf who has the world at his feet.”
Finally we’re seeing the Pollard who in 2014 revelled in his first season of international rugby. The 24-year-old is fit again, conditioned and bossing Super Rugby matches. His performance against the Highlanders was his best in Super Rugby.
3: The Crusaders in Canberra showed just why they are the defending champions of Super Rugby. They played 10 minutes with 13 players, having lost two All Blacks in lock Scott Barrett and centre Ryan Crotty, to the sin bin. In that 10-minute period the Brumbies had 90 percent ball and a field position close to the Crusaders tryline.
The champions didn’t concede a point in that period, with captain Sam Whitelock magnificent in the way he led the defensive shutdown of the Brumbies. Champion teams win on the road and the Crusaders have won 10 successive matches in South Africa, Argentina and Australia.
1: The constant celebration of near misses and close defeats of SA teams irks me. SA will never be the leading rugby nation or the leaders in Super Rugby when losing at home is applauded. The Bulls had 90 percent of the ball and field position in the first 40 minutes against the Highlanders, and 70 percent after 81 minutes.
Yet they lost 29-28 to a Highlanders team that produced rugby’s blueprint performance in how to win with scraps of possession and an appreciation of the value of three points. The question has to be how a team, playing at home at altitude and with such dominance throughout the match, actually lost?
2: I’ll answer how they lost: A disregard for the value of building scoreboard pressure through kicking three points whenever they are on offer. The Bulls have an obsession with kicking to the touchline and trusting their lineout maul to produce tries. But the return on those five or seven pointers is minimal.
The Highlanders schooled the Bulls in rugby intelligence and game management. Highlanders No 10 Lima Sopoaga kicked five penalties, the last of them the match winner. The Bulls had similar three-point opportunities, but persisted with the premeditated kick to the line and maul. The Bulls may have been brave but they weren’t bright.
3: New Zealand’s Glen Jackson and SA’s Jaco Peyper are considered the two best referees in Super Rugby, but they were both guilty of howlers when it came to applying the law. The Bulls can rightly feel aggrieved, while the Crusaders lost a bonus-point try.
Sopoaga should have been yellow carded for a cynical foul on his team’s tryline. Instead he was only penalised. Peyper also only awarded a penalty when it should’ve been a yellow card and penalty try with the Crusaders player on his way to scoring in the last movement of the game.
* Keohane is an award-winning rugby journalist, former Springbok communications manager, founder of www.keo.co.za and the author of five best-selling rugby books.