Crunch time for SA teams

One eye starts moving toward looming test season

The magnificent try by Riaan Viljoen on Saturday could still prove to be a turning point in the Sharks’ season.
Riaan Viljoen.jpg

The magnificent try by Riaan Viljoen on Saturday could still prove to be a turning point in the Sharks’ season. It got them back to their winning ways after five consecutive defeats in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition, when they comprehensively defeated the Force. But the Bulls, currently second on the combined points table and the comfortable South African conference leader, will look for their sixth consecutive win this weekend when they meet the Sharks in a classic South African derby in Durban.


The Free State Cheetahs can strengthen their hold on second place on the South African conference log if they can finish on the right side of the scoreline in an South African arm-wrestle with the Southern Kings.

 

The Reds enjoyed 64% of the possession on Saturday, but the Cheetahs defended like demons and ended up beating the Australian rugby giants 27-13.

 

Jano Vermaak must be the odds-on favourite for inclusion in the Springbok group of 22 to be announced on 1 June, but the Cheetahs scrumhalf Piet van Zyl has thrown his hat into the ring as well with a magnificent performance against the Reds. 

 

Which areas are the ones that will be scrutinised more closely, from a national perspective, with the opening internationals in June looming large?

 

The Springbok fullback position, the outside centre, the number 5 lock and the reserve hooker will be hotly debated.

 

Bismarck du Plessis will return after a prolonged absence on Saturday in the derby at Kings Park against the Bulls. He and Butch James may be back to bolster the Sharks against the Bulls.

 

Yet, the Sharks may struggle to dominate against their traditional arch rival, simply because of the lack of available resources in the midfield.

 

The Bulls boast arguably a future Springbok midfeld combination in Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht, while the Sharks looked vulnerable in this department against the Force.

 

The dog fight between Chiliboy Ralepelle and Du Plessis may be one of the highlights of the derby on Saturday. Ralepelle is currently performing brilliantly, and will possibly deputise for Adriaan Strauss when the Springbok selectors meet on 1 June.

 

The Stormers were extremely disappointing during their Australasian tour. Can they redeem themselves by beating the Reds on Saturday? Can they get their campaign back on track by at least finishing with a bang, instead of a whimper?

 

There must be some sympathy for the Stormers after the controversial penalty try awarded to the Melbourne Rebels over the weekend.

 

The performances by the TV referees were controversial. The try by Akona Ndungane against the Highlanders, as well as the try by Ben Lucas, were examples of some odd refereeing decisions.

 

The rugby journalists of Rapport selected their Springbok shadow teams on Sunday, and two Free State Cheetahs, Pieter Labuschagne and Willie le Roux, were unanimously selected at right wing and flank respectively.

 

There is very little chance that Heyneke Meyer, the Springbok coach, will lean in that direction, in spite of the sublime form displayed by both these two excellent players. He will almost certainly select Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen as wings, and use Willem Alberts and Francois Louw as his flanks.

 

The fullback position will create some headache for the selectors. The Rapport selection panel opted for Joe Pietersen, with one panellist preferring Gio Aplon.

 

But Pietersen has some serious shortcomings, including mediocre touch-finders. He will have to add length to his kicks and improve his ability to kick with both feet if he wants to become a serious contender for the national selection. Yet, in spite of those frailties, he may be the best of a very poor group of contenders right now, with both Zane Kirchner and Francois Steyn on the sidelines due to injuries.

 

Certain senior Springboks have lost some ground during the past two games, notably Juan de Jongh at outside centre and Eben Etzebeth. But Etzebeth still has the inside lane for the number-4 jersey in the tests in June test ahead of the the in-form Flip van der Merwe.

 

Morné Steyn may get the nod at number-10 jersey in June.

 

From a national perspective, the Stormers seriously need to improve their ability to score tries, especially with five Springboks in De Villiers, De Jongh, Habana, Aplon and Elton Jantjies in their backline.

 

They have the class, the pace and the ability, but they have been extremely one-dimensional, and South African fans would love to see De Villiers, Habana and De Jongh scoring tries again.

 

Perhaps the Stormers need quicker release of the ball from the breakdowns and quicker go-forward ball for De Villiers and Habana to enable them to attack space at pace. Therefore it may not be the worst choice to use Deon Fourie and Siya Kolisi in tandem as flankers.

 

If the Stormers slip to another defeat, the pressure on Allister Coetzee will increase and the jury will be out, demanding a change in the coaching structure.

 

It is vital that the Stormers' backline repeat the performance that helped defeat the defending champions, the Chiefs, in an earlier match at Newlands this season.

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