New Zealand teams played badly at the weekend and won five from five. South African teams were better than expected and won one from five. It about sums up which way the first Vodacom Super 14 is heading.
All I kept on hearing this weekend from mates was that New Zealand’s teams aren’t that good and that we aren’t that bad. The Sharks nearly won in Timaru and the Cheetahs, they told me, should have won in Bloemfontein. The Stormers blew it, the Cats had the Hurricanes on the rack and the Bulls simply blitzed the Waratahs.
Then I was told how lucky New Zealand’s sides got.
So let’s look at it. The Stormers were 15-3 up against the Brumbies, who were into their third match away from home. The match ended with Werner Greeff running the ball into touch five metres from the Stormers line hoping for a power cut just then. Fortunately, the hooter sounded.
Then we have the Sharks. Gifted an intercept try and given one that came from an accidental offside, they lead the Crusaders 20-6 after 42 minutes. They ended up not scoring another point and never looking like scoring another point. A day earlier the Cats 10-7 after 35 minutes against the Hurricanes, only to find themselves 19-10 down with two minutes to play to halftime.
Fast forward to South Africa. The Bulls, up against a Waratahs team into its third week on the road, lead 26-3 and then played the last five minutes defending a 26-17 lead. Finally, the Cheetahs. How they were still in the game at halftime was a miracle after they conceded three kickable penalties, were saved a certain try by Os du Randt’s cover tackle on Ben Blair and survived on 30 percent territorial advantage. But they were and on 77 minutes they actually led 12-10. They then lost the match to a Highlanders movement in which the ball went through several hands and travelled 45 metres. Our teams struggle to do that in sunshine, let alone pouring rain.
But my mates tell me the South African teams were better than expected. Geez, how bad did they think they were going to be?
Our teams, by virtue of natural talent, will always be competitive for an hour. It is what they do in the last 20 minutes that defines them as also-rans and the New Zealand sides as having championship material.
The Highlanders hung in and won the game. The Crusaders did the same. The Blues were all guts in winning for the first time in Brisbane against the Reds in Super rugby history, the Chiefs were never troubled away from home in Perth and the Hurricanes played until the 80th minute to get the bonus point try.
Now compare that to our five teams, three of whom played at home. We lost two on the road and won one from three at home. The Kiwis won three overseas and two at home. SA has never enjoyed a weekend like that and it is unlikely to happen this season.
Even more scary is the lack of penetration in creating tries. In five matches the Stormers and Cheetahs could not score one five pointer. The Sharks relied on an intercept and an illegal score, the Cats scored the one try in Wellington and the Bulls created one superb try and relied on a lucky bounce from an opponent’s mistake for the other. That’s two tries created through our skill in five matches. That’s the statistic that will scare Jake White.
It was a weekend that emphasised how much the South African sides will struggle and not how the gap has been closed on the New Zealand sides.
The Aussies, nothing from four at the weekend, are currently struggling, but the Waratahs and Brumbies got enough on the road to be among the play-off contenders. Our teams need wins on the road and wins at home to be in a similar position. When three teams play at home and only one gets a win, that’s not a reason for joy.