Try-fest in our URC derbies … it’s mostly good news

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Makazole Mapimpi on the charge... (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)
Makazole Mapimpi on the charge... (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)

Nineteen tries across the two South African derbies as the United Rugby Championship resumed on our shores at the weekend: it was almost like a flashback to the attack-minded heyday of Super Rugby.

There will always be cynics and killjoys wailing “so what happened to defences?” under such circumstances, and possibly not without some validity.

Yet the fact remains that the attractive fare was triggered by an unexpectedly high tempo and pleasingly daring, ambitious spirit to both the Lions v Sharks and Bulls v Stormers tussles, considering the mid-summer heat and that all four sides were coming off a break of several weeks.

Importantly, nobody went home empty-handed at a time when the collective SA quest is to start climbing the overall table earnestly with games in hand on the northern-hemisphere teams.

Winners the Sharks and Stormers earned five-point “full houses”, while the Bulls still bagged two consolation points (for four tries and ending within seven points on the scoreboard), and the Lions one.

Win or lose, then, it was a reminder that offensive intent does pay dividends.

No less significantly, the agreeable pace to both derbies served a simultaneous warning to the colder-climes teams: will you be able to keep up with us for lung capacity when you (finally) start playing regular URC matches in South African conditions?

A little unfortunately, that pattern only begins to take effect on the weekend of 12 March, but by then it can still be warm to hot in some parts of the country and the effects of altitude will be a (more guaranteed!) factor when the best of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy experience the highveld.

The Sharks’ victory in Johannesburg and the Stormers’ gutsy, less expected raiding of the Loftus fortress tees up enticingly the all-coastal clash in Durban this weekend … though I would caution against any expectation of another humdinger there.

Both had to dig deep in the thin-air conditions for their respective wins in the latest round, and now the scheduling of their showdown on the KZN coast – late January can be more insufferably humid than at any time of year in the region – is a totally unenviable one.

It was bad enough, I recall, the last time I visited Kings Park for a Sharks v Stormers contest: an early (round three) Super Rugby encounter in 2013.

We were two days into March, but the discomfort level was still virtually off the charts: the ball was like a bar of soap and mutual lethargy abounded as they slugged out one of the slowest, most lifeless and error-riddled pro rugby matches I’ve ever been at.

The hosts duly won 12-6, courtesy of Pat Lambie’s four penalty goals to Joe Pietersen’s two for the Stormers.

So it may be a grinding old slug-out this Saturday … despite such signs of vibrancy and good conditioning by plentiful SA players in the just-completed round.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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