It was the big one in Wellington on Saturday. With England in a sweet spot and the Irish fresh over an unprecedented All Black scalp the British and Irish Lions were expected to roll into New Zealand like the cowboy hero in a Western movie; with a swagger and taking care of the one adversary after the other with ease and charisma to boot.
Instead for much of the tour Warren Gatland’s side looked more like a washed out, over-weight sheriff who lost complete control of his town, unable to lay down the law. Tour losses to the Blues and Highlanders were followed up by a comprehensive first test defeat. The wagon was packed and the old timer was ready to ride off into the sunset. But instead the rain came down and Sonny-Bill Williams took up the role as head villain. The Lions will be roaming the streets of the Land of the long white cloud for another week – this time with a puffed up chest and half a swagger back in their step.
What impressed me about the All Blacks in this contest was two two-fold. Firstly they were able to adapt. The weather as well as having to play with only fourteen men meant they opted for playing much more conservatively than is their nature. This tactic almost got the job done as they were able to wrestle their way into an 18-9 lead three quarters of the way through the contest. The second impressive factor was Ian Forster’s comment at the break with regard to the red card: “The challenge just got a little bit bigger but we’re excited about that”. Seriously?! The hurdle got raised by a heck of a margin yet the All Black assistant coach is excited about the challenge that it sets for his players. Most teams and players prefer to shift the favourites tag or one can physically see them shy away from responsibility come that crucial moment on the biggest stage of them all. But not this Kiwi side – they get going when the going gets tough. True BMT that and I wish South African sportsmen (read Proteas) could find a healthy dose of that attitude somewhere along the line.
The argument has been made that it was 14 on fifteen. We have all seen the posts and comments about how the BIL’s have only led the All Blacks for five minutes over two tests thus far. All that counts for nothing though – we are set for a showdown at noon. It will be one heck of a gun fight but I can see only one winner in this duel. The fastest gun in the West will be the men from the south‑east.
Having taken plenty of flak for their performances thus far in 2017 the Bulls pitched up at Kingspark and played the type of rugby this critic was expecting from them from the start of the season. A young, enthusiastic Bulls side played with passion and commitment upfront and the backs fearlessly threw the ball around, giving the likes of Jan Serfontein and WarrickGalant the opportunity to showcase their considerable talents. It is a pity that the men from the north took this long to finally find their voice and even more saddening is the fact that this refreshing approach witnessed on the night came too late to keep Serfontein in the country.
The Sharks were caught completely cold by their opponents. Thomas du Toit was one of the few who could feel proud of his efforts but in general it was a rude awakening to Shark supporter that this team won’t be going much further than the first knockout game. There is however plenty of young talent to be excited about in Shark country.
SATURDAY TRY FEST
There was little on the line for the Cheetahs on Saturday and not much more for the Stormers. As such it came as no surprise to see two youthful sides give the ball plenty of air in Bloem. Despite a number of errors this was a good example of young talented South Africans playing with freedom and running in some great tries by mostly playing into space rather than trying to run over every opponent that crossed their path. Of course there is usually one exception to the rule and on this occasion it was Rynhard Elstadt. He has in the past been guilty of over-zealous play and someone seriously needs to have chat to the lad as he is becoming a liability rather than the valuable enforcing asset which he could be.
On this point I would however like to touch on the absurd “retaliation” rule in rugby. So, we build (hopefully only through dozens of eggs in their meal plan and creatine supplements rather than steroid induced power) and train monstrous men mainly with the sole goal of bashing the opponent into the ground. Then we ask this man-mountain to merely stick his hand in the air and wait for attention like a good grade four pupil when someone plants a solid right hook to his jaw or lands an elbow to his right eye socket. Emmm… Somehow this just doesn’t seem right. For mind the instigator should be given the harsher penalty.
In Johannesburg the Sunwolves didn’t instigate a thing and they were on the receiving end of an absolute pumbling. Were it a boxing match the referee would have put an end to the contest shortly after the half time break as it was clear that the Japs were only getting hurt, with no form of self-defence left, from this point onward. Kriel was sublime, the Kwagga roamed devastatingly free and Combrinck had a field day at the back. The men from the East were like lambs to the slaughter against a Lions team very much at the top of their game. It was the mismatch of all mismatches. Men have told some pretty good lies over the years:
Honey I promise it’s only one more drink before I come home;
No you don’t look fat in that dress;
Would you like to come up for some coffee? (Knowing full well you don’t own a kettle).
BUT one of the biggest lies told by some gentlemen who reckon themselves rather smart is that more rugby means better rugby. Or that Super Rugby is the premier rugby competition in the world. This is sadly no longer the case as the decision-makers have prostituted the competition for the sake of a few bob – surely from tv rights in Japan as it certainly isn’t from ticket sales in South Africa!
Remember to pick a comfy couch seat for what promise to be an epic third test between the BIL’s and the Blacks on Saturday.
Until next week.
Who is Couch Critic?
Hein Diemont is the resident “Couch Critic” in the Goodforthegame Forum and he shares his weekly Super Rugby Blog the “Post Match Scuffle” or “PMS” with us.
In his blog Couch Critic channels his usual weekend swearing, ranting, cheering, whinging and bickering to the written word. Brutally honest opinions of how the Super Rugby action went down from his perspective – no punches pulled, it’s PMS time…
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