The politics of last week’s decision to cut two South African teams from Super Rugby dominated the build-up to this weekend’s action.
And ironically, the script played out like many would’ve expected.
The Lions showed their are still the best side in South Africa, while the Kings and Cheetahs, unfortunately, didn’t do much to state their cases of surviving the chop.
Why the Lions are a champion side
There are many hallmarks to a great rugby side.
But after the Lions beat the Stormers 29-16 at Newlands, captain Warren Whiteley touched on a very important thing that makes this side special.
“I must say, over the last couple of years, the best teams in Super Rugby have brought out the best in us,” said the Springbok eighthman.
“When we’re under pressure, we perform at our best. The Stormers spent a lot of time in our 22-area and we ground out the win.”
Whiteley has ammunition to back that up.
In 2015, they beat the eventual champions the Highlanders after being 20-3 down; beat New Zealand opposition to reach the 2016 final and now this historic Newlands triumph.
“I actually didn’t know we’ve never won a Super Rugby game in the Cape. Rudolf Straeuli (the Lions CEO) came to me and said we’ve made history again. It’s a nice achievement.”
The Lions truly do beat the best.
Stormers need not be depressed
There’s no reason for Robbie Fleck’s men to suddenly have doubts after their loss to the Lions.
They didn’t deliver a particularly good performance but they’re also not a finished product.
What the Stormers experienced on Saturday was an important learning curve.
They’re at the beginning of an exciting journey and are going to have to find consistency.
It happened with the Lions too a few years back.
“Last year the Lions were able to back up those kind of performances – like the one we delivered against the Chiefs – week in and week out,” said Fleck.
“That was our challenge this week, to back up last week’s performance and we didn’t. We have to work hard and come back.”
Phew! The Bulls’ Boks are back (sort of)
Bulls coach Nollis Marais hailed Trevor Nyakane as one of the stars in the 26-13 over the Jaguares.
And South African rugby should be rejoicing.
“That was one of his best performances ever – scrummaging wise and defensively,” said Marais of his tighthead prop.
“He had a huge impact on the team in this game. You don’t get players like him easily. People doubted Trevor can make the move to tighthead and he scrummed superbly against one of the best scrumming sides.”
Nyakane’s improved form is part of a broader theme, where the Bulls’ national players are starting to find form again.
Heaven knows, Bok coach Allister Coetzee needs men like Nyakane, Jesse Kriel and Handre Pollard to be at their best again.
“Jesse was great. I told him I needed a big performance from him again and he delivered,” said Marais.
Cheetahs collapse down to inexperience
Maybe Franco Smith, the Cheetahs coach, is right not to look too deeply when assessing his side’s 41-27 loss to the Chiefs.
This was a stunning collapse – they led 24-0 but then “lost” the last 55 minutes 41-3.
Perhaps the expectations for this side is too high.
After all, they lack truly world-class players and are also still learning under Smith.
“We really come close to victories and work really hard,” he said.
“There’s fighting spirit but it’s never a good sign when a side looks at a big lead and then stops playing. That’s what we did. And to stop doing that, we need to be more experienced. We still need to remember that the Currie Cup and Super Rugby aren’t the same tournaments.”
But how long can one excuse wiping out 24-point leads?