27 Sep 2020
What we learned from Saturday's double-header at Loftus Versfeld.
It would have been a strange experience for the players to play in an empty stadium on Saturday, but as a TV viewer, I still enjoyed watching it. I thought Vodacom and SuperSport did an excellent job in 'filling' the East Stand with cardboard cutouts of fans and digital advertising boards, and SuperSport's decision not to have fake crowd noise was vindicated as the commentary, and players speaking on and next to the field, prevented any eerie silence. It will be great when the fans can return, though!
Kurt-Lee Arendse and Stedman Gans were as impressive for the Bulls on Saturday as they've been for the Blitzboks in the past. Arendse scored two tries on the left wing, the first from inside the Bulls' 22 when he outpaced the Sharks defence and cut back inside past Curwin Bosch. Gans had an excellent game at outside centre. He scored a try after chasing an up-and-under from Morné Steyn and then beat a defender on the outside before putting Travis Ismaiel away for a try.
With Makazole Mapimpi in Japan, and Sbu Nkosi, Madosh Tambwe and Aphele Fassi all injured, the Sharks fielded a new-look back three against the Bulls, in wingers Muller du Plessis and Werner Kok and fullback Manie Libbok. Du Plessis looked good early on until sustaining a leg injury, Kok worked as hard for the Sharks as he did for the Blitzboks, while Libbok had a nervy start, dropping a Morné Steyn high ball that led to Stedman Gans' try. The Sharks don't look as strong in this area as they did in Super Rugby, but it's worth remembering that a new back three needs time to gel and this one will only get better.
Malherbe put on a few kilograms during the lockdown, as a photo from the Stormers' internal match showed. It went viral on social media this week, with some questioning his conditioning and ability to perform at a high level. The tighthead prop answered his critics at Loftus with a superb scrummaging effort that proved while a bit of excess weight may prevent rugby's fat men from pursuing a modelling career, it doesn't stop them from winning a front-row battle.
The Lions' scrum struggled during Super Rugby earlier this year and it did so again during the first half against the Stormers when both teams had their first-choice packs on the field. While the Lions' scrum did improve in the second half after they replaced their entire team (and the Stormers also turned to their bench), coach Ivan van Rooyen will remain a worried man heading into Super Rugby Unlocked.
When joining the Stormers from the Bulls, the Springbok fullback said he wanted to take his game to the next level. He made a good start on Saturday, showing a couple of nice touches in the first half, including taking a high ball and then darting away. In the second half, Gelant made a try out of nothing, cutting back inside three defenders before bursting through a gap between two front-rankers to score. It was a promising first appearance for his new franchise, and hopefully a sign of things to come.
– Borchardt is the editorial director of RugbyRocks.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photos: Johan Rynners/Bulls/Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images