The Stormers got the result against the Lions in Johannesburg but I don’t buy into the talk that this was a result for the ages. The Stormers were expected to win – and win well. They got the win and the four points, but their overall performance also took the gloss off their opening fortnight.
The Stormers, at 26-15, should have put the Lions away. It is a credit to them that they somehow created a miracle injury time seven pointer to remain unbeaten.
It isn’t wrong to have an expectation of these Stormers. It isn’t unrealistic to expect them to put a young team like the Lions to the sword. The Lions, awful in the opening round against the Jaguares, were only marginally better in seeing off the Reds in Johannesburg. They are a team rebuilding and don’t be fooled by the presence of Springboks, some of them way past their prime. It would be a surprise if the Lions made the top eight this season. This is not an anti-Lions sentiment but an observation of the current standard of the playing and coaching strength.
I enjoyed Elton Jantjies’s performance. He had been off his game in the opening fortnight but was comfortably more composed and impressive than Damian Willemse who for the second successive weekend seemed to try too hard to make something out of nothing every time.
Willemse is wonderfully talented. He simply needs to calm things down a bit in his head, accept that patience is also an attacking weapon and balance his natural instincts with pragmatism. He has everything you would want in a flyhalf’s game and the more he plays the better he will get. It was also good to see Jean-Luc du Plessis in the mix and making an impact.
Steven Kitshoff, as player and as leader, was my player of the day, with Stormers No 8 Juarno Augustus also making an impression.
I also liked the look of Lions centre Mannie Ras and enjoyed the contribution of former Springbok fullback Andries Coetzee. Rass, just 21 years old, was exceptional when playing for Paarl Boys High and has quickly made the transition into senior rugby.
I had the Sharks to beat the Hurricanes but didn’t factor in Curwin Bosch’s unavailability, nor the possibility that they would lose their best backline player in Makazole Mapimpi in the first 25 minutes. They also lost flyhalf Boeta Chamerlain to injury in that period and had to play a centre at wing and a scrumhalf at flyhalf.
It wasn’t a 16-point losing effort, but the Canes did break the Sharks with some individual moments of excellence. The Sharks will be annoyed they took no league points from the game, but equally losing an away match in New Zealand is not a train smash in the context of their campaign.
What the injuries did highlight was the absence of like for like quality replacements for the first- choice players.
I expected the Crusaders to bounce back with a win against the Blues, but didn’t think it would be as easy in Auckland. To quote Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, it was a lot tougher to beat the Blues in 2019.
The Crusaders and Chiefs remain New Zealand’s biggest title contenders, there is nothing within the Australian conference when it comes to title winners and the Stormers and Jaguares are still my picks to finish one and two in the South African conference.