Seeing Victor Matfield pop his head into the Sharks pre-lineout “Dinkskrum” to try and chivvy them up was a first for me. Seeing the clearly forward pass from Jesse Kriel to Fancois Hougaard being deemed as fine by TMO Johan Greeff rendered me eye poppingly incredulous.
But it was a look at the astonishing stats from Friday night’s Cheetahs v Blues game on the Vodacom Rugby app that delivered the biggest bruise to the jaw given how hard it hit the floor.
How the Cheetahs managed to burgle a win from the travelling Blues, who enjoyed a monster 78% of the territory and a chunky 69% of the possession, is beyond me!
And it was not really about the kicking this time round. The home side kicked 26 times from hand in comparison with the 23 from the Blues, but that is where the similarity ends. The Cheetahs ran 256 metres to the 519 from the Blues, made 3 clean breaks compared to 14 from the Blues, made 53 carries to 129 from the visitors, beat just 8 defenders to the 31 from the Blues, made 59 passes to the 177 from the Blues, and snuck in 7 offloads to the 20 made by the visitors.
The Cheetahs were forced to make 143 tackles to the paltry 43 from the Blues. They missed a monster 31 tackles to the minimal 8 from the Blues, knocked the ball on 6 more times, and made 6 more handling errors.
Yet won the game!
Current Sharks director of rugby, Gary Gold, was the first to tell me at a mutual acquaintance’s evening braai, and then current SARU minister of coaching, Rassie Erasmus, reinforced it at an informal session with the media just after Heyneke Meyer took the job…
You win rugby games not by keeping the ball and playing all the rugby… Instead you win them by giving the opposition the ball and allowing them to make the mistakes.
And it’s true. How bloody sad is that?
It does come down to execution, though. Something the Blues just did not pack for their trip to Africa. And where on the field you choose to strut your stuff. Ball in hand from your tryline - not so clever. Ball in hand after a forced turnover from a well followed up kick to put you in the opposition 22 - much smarter.
And that is what the Chiefs and Hurricanes seem to be getting right, even if only to be the exception that proves the rule.
There were 20 kicks from hand by each of the Chiefs and Crusaders in their game on Saturday morning. The Chiefs ran 402 metres to the 320 of the Crusaders, though, made 2 more clean breaks, 15 more carries, beat 6 more defenders, and with a whopping 25 off-loads, made 17 more than the Crusaders.
That is just wonderful rugby! Obviously made possible by the fact that the Chiefs have the likes of Tom Marshall, Hosea Gear, Charlie Ngatai, Sonny Bill Williams, James Lowe and Aaron Cruden out wide.
So what happens when your players stocks are not quite that talented?
Then you make like the Stormers of 2012 and kick for the corner in order to score tries from the resultant legalised obstruction that is the driving maul. One cannot really argue the above “play without the ball” stats and the fact that the Cape side topped the log that year with 14 wins from 16 games.
And with 3 wins from 3 games this year, yet not even close to topping any of the team attacking stats (their best is 5th on the clean breaks list with 18 to the Blues table topping 27), perhaps last year’s hint of a ball in hand game is going to remain just that - a hint.
But that game annoyed their fans hugely, and did not exactly work in the playoffs!
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