The South African conference provided a fabulous start to the 2018 Super Rugby season. We opened with Stormers at home to the Jaguares in an entertaining tussle. The game of the round followed – Lions at home to the Sharks is a game that rugby fans will want to watch in full.
A note on the refereeing – the new scrum interpretations may well take a few rounds for referees to be comfortable that packs have caught up.
STORMERS 28 JAGUARES 20
This game featured a yellow card each; a scrum penalty try to the Jaguares; a Stormers conversion kick legally charged down; and another four scintillating tries, three to Stormers and one more to the Jaguares.
The Stormers will look forward to the return of Etzebeth and du Toit who were rested. The starting locks did well enough but were unable to arrest a sporadic set piece. Occasionally excellent, frequently not so much.
Jaco Piper found it necessary to reset many scrums where either a gap was not maintained at the bind, or poor scrum feeds or poor strikes did not allow the game to proceed under the new rules.
Ledesma has the Jaguares playing free-flowing rugby with even the tight five passing. Unfortunately they were poor switching back to a forwards possession when the game called for it. It may be a fitness issue but it did lead to discipline issues which continues to be a Jaguares bugbear.
The Jaguares exit strategy presented as well honed. The forwards strongly commit to the first or second phase protecting the half who slows things down before kicking. With this signal, a strong kick chase followed sometimes leading to a successful challenge or turnover. It may be picked off by the Kiwis but it is a Jaguares strength at this early stage of the competition.
The Stormers also lacked discipline in stretches, especially when down to 14 men.
Concerns over poor defence in the Stormer centres was not evident with wide forwards helping out. The 19 year old fly half, Willemse, showed plenty of promise. He was helped out where needed by the back three – Senatla dropping in to first receiver when the 10 was caught and both of them showing a lovely wide pass. This is the Stormer’s “A game” – get it wide to the wingers (Rhule and Senatla) and fullback (Leyds). They were slippery and made plenty of distance. The support was there but if stronger the Stormers could have taken plenty more points.
The Jaguares, as usual, were promising but the Stormers deserved their first season win.
Lions 26 Sharks 19
Possibly one of the best Round 1 games we have seen in a few years, both teams showing why they are favoured in the South African conference in 2018. If you missed this game, don’t just rely on the highlights – find a replay and watch the full game if you can.
Both teams featured plenty of tactical kicking both early in the game and throughout the match. This was not, however, the dreaded African 10 man rugby that we are familiar with on the Hiveldt. Territory was balanced with determined raids behind the kicking. The Sharks, as promised by Head Coach du Perez, showed determined attack rugby on first phase possibly matching the flamboyant Lions.
The Sharks dominated the line outs with plenty of wins against the throw.
The scrum, the scrum, my god the scrum. Lions dominated. They used a forceful 8 man shove when the opposition had to have the hooker striking. Something that the Sharks were unable to return on their tight head feeds. Wright (Shark 9) felt forced to nonchalantly skew the feed – referee Glen Jackson was having none of it. A small reprieve for the Sharks when the Beast arrived after half time immediately earning a rare scrum penalty for the Sharks. Once the bench front rows were emptied it was back to Lions domination.
The Lions under new Head Coach Swys de Bruin certainly seem to have picked up from where Ackermann left them. Incredibly they may prove to be a better team in 2018. Entertaining rugby with frequent early phase attack, clever kicking, and solid forwards. It is possible that the Lions are improving on last year. Just look to the line out Swys!
The Sharks are a massive step up from last year. Very nearly holding the Lions in spite of the scrum and having legs with little in the tank for the last 20 minutes at height.
Both teams should be taken seriously in 2018.