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Thu Dec 08 20:13:28 CAT 2016

SA wins blow away the blues

Brendan Venter | 2016-03-08 00:47:55.0
MANE MAN: Golden Lions speedster Lionel Mapoe doing it the Lions' way - running the ball in the Super rugby clash with the Waikato Chiefs
Image by: MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP

Two weeks seem an eternity in South African rugby. After the despondency that engulfed the sport amid boardroom back-biting and a lack of leadership, the dark clouds hovering above SA Rugby have momentarily lifted.

On the back of a positive meeting - Saru president Oregan Hoskins and chief executive Jurie Roux have seemingly settled their differences for the good of the game - round two of Super rugby further enhanced the feel-good factor with four SA sides winning.

The manner in which the SA teams won their matches this past weekend was the most pleasing aspect. It's patently obvious that our players have developed more attacking intent from turnovers, kick returns and set-piece plays. Though it's the players who execute the plans, it's SA's franchise coaches who deserve credit because they spent time and energy pre-season, refining a ball-in-hand approach.

I believe it's beneficial that the bulk of our Super rugby coaches hail from a Varsity Cup background, which champions a ball-in-hand philosophy.

Franco Smith, Nollis Marais and Robbie Fleck all cut their teeth coaching in the Varsity Cup competition and must be applauded for transferring a ball-in-hand mindset to Super rugby level. Defences are more difficult to break down in Super rugby, but working on attack must be rewarded.

The Lions, SA pioneers of a ball-in-hand approach started by John Mitchell and cultivated by Johan Ackermann, almost don't count any more because they have been employing that style of play for a while now. However, their four-try effort against the Chiefs, which resulted in their first win in Hamilton, was underpinned by stellar support play, deft offloads and fantastic ball control in contact.

It was brilliant to witness and it almost challenges the convention that South African players are not skilful enough. New Zealand match commentator Scotty Stevenson said as much when he remarked: "This is a Lions side that makes a mockery of the stereotypes that we apply to South African teams."

The Lions team is impressive because they work so hard on defence but stay creative on attack.

The Bulls also looked so much sharper on attack against the Rebels and, if they keep it up, the crowds will come flooding back to Loftus Versfeld. However, if they want to be taken seriously they will have to improve their discipline and, even more importantly, shore up a leaky defence.

As for the Sharks, they are trying to play "more" rugby under director of rugby Gary Gold than during the ultra-conservative Jake White era.

However, conditions are really difficult in Durban at this time of the year because of the dew.

Under White's tutelage, the Sharks kicked almost everything but they are now in the process of restoring the balance between kicking and running.

However, against the Jaguares, conditions made the ball incredibly slippery to handle and starter plays from set-pieces represented the best opportunity to run because the moment the ball touched a sweaty jersey post-maul, it was tickets.

In terms of the national set-up, much time and effort has gone into developing Rassie Erasmus and it would be disappointing if his services were lost to SA rugby. If Saru can retain Erasmus and if he can join Bok coach favourite Allister Coetzee, all the time invested in the former will be worthwhile.

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