Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Three subsequent Saturday matches on our own
soil failed to dislodge the Lions from runaway mantle of premier South African
team of the second Super Rugby 2016 weekend.
Whilst it was generally a productive round for the SA
franchises, featuring a trio of victories from as many starts against overseas
opponents plus a bogey-breaking derby win for the ambitions Stormers in
Bloemfontein, Warren Whiteley’s heroes were the ones to make us sit bolt
upright with a first-time Hamilton triumph over the Chiefs.
More than the mere upset element to their 36-32 outcome
against the 2012 and 2013 champions, the manner in which the Lions achieved it
was what made the feat, to borrow the words of SuperSport critic and former
Springbok coach Nick Mallett, so “extraordinary”.
Toppling New Zealand teams in their own dens has become as
rare as hen’s teeth by South African outfits anyway, and when they are achieved
it usually requires the most taxing and bloody-minded of defensive efforts to
clinch the deal.
A perfect example is the 13-10 pinching of spoils by the
very same Lions against the Blues at Albany last year; they had to do so much
work on the back foot that they effectively knackered themselves for the
follow-up tour fixture against the Crusaders, and were well beaten 34-6 in
This was so different ... and against a better team, almost
certainly, than the Blues were last season.
Here the Lions entirely matched the All Black-peppered
Chiefs for enterprise, creativity and ability to retain the ball for
significant periods; statistics proved their toe-to-toe flair and commitment to
attack as the hosts were forced into making around 30 more tackles than the
It was four tries all in a breathless, engrossing encounter
and a result which was as much a tribute to the coaching strides made by Johan
Ackermann and his immediate lieutenants as it was the rich spirit that pumps
through the team’s veins.
They “out-New Zealanded”, if you like, a New Zealand side
and it was a breath of fresh air – though let’s not be guilty of going too gaga
just yet -- to people praying the South African national side can find new
dimensions soon enough in the quest to topple the All Blacks from their solidly
entrenched, world-leading pedestal.
The Lions have now earned an enviable nine points from a
possible 10 on their very early-season main overseas trek (including that full
house against the Sunwolves in Tokyo), so it almost doesn’t matter what happens
in the trip-ending tussle with the defending champion Highlanders this
That said, such is the hunger and play-for-each-other ethic
of the Lions troops that we shouldn’t automatically discount another
giant-killing in Dunedin, should we?
Win or lose that one, Whiteley and company are already on an
excellent tournament footing when you consider that they return soon for 11
consecutive clashes on SA turf before closing ordinary season with a once-off
further overseas game in Buenos Aires.
Meanwhile, the marketing folk will be able to hype the
Newlands derby between coastal adversaries the Stormers and Sharks as a clash
of unbeaten teams on Saturday evening, following respective, tough-grind wins
against the Cheetahs and Jaguares.
For a second time in as many weekends, the Stormers produced
enough grunt and savvy in the second half to repel the Cheetahs’ challenge
20-10, simultaneously ending a three-game losing Super Rugby hoodoo in the
Although the home side continued to show that their
scrummaging is remarkably on the mend – and then some, at times – under the
tutelage of Bloemfontein-born former Bok and WP/Stormers front-ranker Daan
Human, the perpetual disruption of their lineout throw by the visitors’ jumpers
played a pivotal role in the way the cookie crumbled on the day.
The Sharks were pipped 2-1 in the try column by the Jaguares
in Durban, but won the game where it mattered most – on the electronic
scoreboard, which eventually read 19-15 after a tight tussle.
Whilst the Argentineans again showed marvellous pace and
opportunism on the counter-attack, the Sharks did boss almost three-quarters of
the real estate and Gary Gold won’t mind too much that they prevailed in a
pretty industrial manner.
His side mostly showed off good physical relish and
conditioning, with the young Du Preez loose forward twins again marauding
elegantly and powerfully, and Pat Lambie’s plucky little stand-in at flyhalf,
Joe Pietersen, a model of composure and aided by Andre Esterhuizen’s
explosiveness alongside him at inside centre.
“He’s always been a good footballer,” reminded Naas Botha in
the SuperSport studio as he concurred about Pietersen’s performance, which
included precious reliability off the kicking tee.
The Bulls are on the bounce-back as well, after their
relative goring in Cape Town, seeing off the Rebels with greater ease on the
score-line (45-25) than some had expected at Loftus, although they had worrying
periods of gross ineptitude to go with some handsome try-scoring activity when
on the front foot in a wild and woolly affair ...
fixtures (home teams first, all kickoffs SA time):
Friday: Blues v Hurricanes, 08:35; Force v Brumbies, 13:05.
Saturday: Highlanders v Lions, 08:35; Rebels v Reds, 10:45; Sunwolves v
Cheetahs, 12:55; Kings v Chiefs, 15:05; Stormers v Sharks, 17:15. Byes: Bulls,
Crusaders, Jaguares, Waratahs.
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