Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Perhaps Super Rugby will prove
as resilient as the Currie Cup has been in recent years ... bash it repeatedly
over the head with debatable changes, but somehow it will stay on its feet.
On show in a chunky nine-game format over a
single round for the first time, the opening weekend failed rather “miserably”
to prove that it has become structurally too cumbersome for its own good.
The overall calibre of play was extremely
pleasing and, if anything, as it began roughly parallel to the northern
hemisphere’s annual pride and joy – the Six Nations – it only re-emphasised
that the south is firmly where it’s still at for vibrancy, pace and skill
Several Australasian sides started with big
statements of intent, too, but at least from a South African point of view the
Stormers and Sharks, particularly, served notice that they ought to be credible
candidates for berths in the knockout phase further down the line.
The Lions and Cheetahs were decent for good
stretches of their respective matches as well, even if they had contrasting
fortunes against the debut-making Sunwolves and Jaguares, with the Jo’burgers
earning a bonus-point victory in Tokyo and Franco Smith’s charges edged out in
a 67-point proper thriller by the Argentineans in Bloemfontein.
The competition’s newest pair of additions
provided robust evidence that they will bring a certain constructive, cultural
difference to the tournament, rather than drag its gravitas down.
On a more negative side, second-time
entrants the Kings seemed to confirm, as they were whipped 43-8 in Port Elizabeth
by the Sharks, that they will be even more vulnerable than they were in a gutsy
first campaign in 2013.
Not helping was that an ominously sparse
crowd turned out for their season-opening coastal derby, probably dispirited by
the enduring turmoil behind the scenes at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Eastern Cape-born Springbok prop of the
early post-isolation era, Keith Andrews (@KeithKandrews), lamented on Twitter
as they slid toward a six-tries-to-one loss:“Going to be a long, long season.
You can’t go to war with pellet guns. Crowd numbers down, players’ heads down
Minor consolation was that the Kings were
stubborn in the first half, disrupting the Sharks’ quest for fluency and
composure and staying within range, only seven points down, as the sides headed
for the tunnel.
But the floodgates opened pretty speedily
after that, as the Sharks discovered a brand of ball-in-hand constructiveness
seldom seen from them in a couple of years in the competition.
Helped by the assertiveness of their loose
trio -- established forager Marcell Coetzee and the exciting, muscular Du Preez
twins, Dan and Jean-Luc – the visitors began to punch big holes in the Kings’
defence, giving the likes of Willie le Roux, Paul Jordaan and Lwazi Mvovo scope
for some thrilling, mazy raids in the back division.
In the headline SA clash at an atmospheric
Newlands shortly afterwards, the Stormers and Bulls went at each other for the
first 40 minutes in the remorseless manner you expect from the time-honoured
south v north grudge meeting.
But once a third member of the rugby-rich
Du Preez family, flyhalf Robert, had broken the game’s try drought beyond the
50th minute with a clever snipe through a gap, the home side turned
the screws very clinically to run away with things and add a cherry-on-top
After surprising their fancied opponents
with their scrummaging resilience in the first half – sometimes it was a bit
more than that, too – the Bulls tellingly fell away horribly in that department
once they replaced their first-choice props, Boks Trevor Nyakane and Marcel van
By sharp contrast, once the Stormers
infused JC Janse van Rensburg and Frans Malherbe, they got a pronounced second
wind themselves and the whole pack seemed hugely galvanised; the third try was
achieved with one of the most “runaway bulldozer” rolling mauls you may ever
The rebuilding Bulls also got an
uncomfortable reminder on the day of the gargantuan void left by Victor
Matfield in both lineout management and personal mastery – they had several of
their own throw-ins pinched, primarily by a bristling Eben Etzebeth who oozed
snarling intent in all facets of play.
Based on the strength of their first-round
showings, both the Stormers and Sharks should be fancied to go two from two
when they play the Cheetahs (away) and Jaguares (home) respectively next
weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):
Friday: Crusaders v Blues, 08:35; Brumbies
v Waratahs, 10:45. Saturday: Chiefs v Lions, 06:15; Highlanders v Hurricanes,
08:35; Reds v Force, 10:45; Bulls v Rebels, 15:00; Cheetahs v Stormers, 17:05;
Sharks v Jaguares, 19:10.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing