Although next weekend will be the first full round of fixtures for Super Rugby, four of the teams in the South African Conference were in action on Saturday as the 2018 edition got underway.
The Stormers and the Lions both got off the mark with wins, while the Sharks were able to get a losing bonus point on the road.
With only one team from each conference guaranteed a spot in the play-offs, winning your home games, especially against conference rivals, will be key to making the quarter-finals.
Stormers 28 Jaguares 20
This is a game the Jaguares will feel they left behind them.
Both teams had some shocking defence, but the Argentines should be disappointed with the de Allende and Kolisi’s tries in particular.
Those scores set up the half-time score of 15–6 to the Stormers and when Raymond Rhule scored a try immediately after the break it looked like it could’ve been a long afternoon for the Jaguares.
However, a combination of their offloading attacking game and dominance in the scrum saw them score tries from Emiliano Boffelli, and then get a penalty try.
However, they weren’t clinical enough when it mattered most.
The Stormers won a penalty from a scrum when a try would’ve put the Jaguares in front with just over five minutes left. They then kicked a last-minute penalty to deny the visitors a bonus point.
Looking ahead, the Jaguares will try to sort out their discipline which let them down when they needed it most.
While both teams weren’t afraid to throw offloads and some of the attacking phases were entertaining, these promising attacks often led to frustrating ends, and they will surely look for more patience in the future.
The Stormers were making line breaks but could have had a much more comfortable end to the game if they were more clinical.
It seems as though when the Stormers make a line break they think they have to score immediately, rather than go through a few phases, show patience and work their way over the line.
Both teams showed some good stuff in attack, but the Lions and the Sharks looked like better teams in the second game.
Lions 26 Sharks 19
The Sharks got off to a great start with a try from fly-half Robert du Preez within ten minutes, the celebration showing how much it meant to them.
The Lions then hit back with a well-executed try scored by Lionel Mapoe, Elton Jantjies giving a good pass to Mapoe who was running an excellent line from depth.
Then there was a moment of magic from Lions winger Aphiwe Dyantyi as he showed searing pace to glide by one defender and skill by chipping ahead before regathering it to score.
It was reminiscent of Jordan Larmour’s score against Ulster, if Dyantyi can have the same impact for his team he could be a great attacking weapon for them.
The Sharks hit back immediately after half-time with a good finish from powerful winger Sibusiso Nkosi, after a very good pass from Cameron Wright.
There was then three tries in ten glorious minutes of rugby, Mapoe going over again to push out the Lions lead, followed quickly by a try from Makazole Mapimpi, again a fantastic long pass straight from the ruck from Wright.
There were two points in it after Robert du Preez slotted the touchline conversion and the game was in the balance.
However, Kwagga Smith showed initiative to take a quick tap from five metres out and roll over from close range, a tidy finish from the flanker, to push the Lions lead out to seven.
That’s how it ended, but the Sharks did have chances, twice letting men get isolated only metres out from the Lions line, which led to turnovers and the Lions holding on to win a fantastic game of rugby.
Looking forward, both teams will take positives from this game. It certainly had a good intensity for a round one game and some individuals performances were promising.
For the Sharks, Cameron Wright, and Sibusiso Nkosi impressed, while Lukhanyo Am was good in attack.
The Lions will be encouraged by Aphiwe Dyantyi’s performance, while Andries Coetzee and Lionel Mapoe showed why they were Springboks, with Kwagga Smith showing why many want to see him involved with the national team.
However, surprisingly for South African sides, set-piece was an issue for both teams.
The Sharks lost their first three scrums in a row, although they won a late scrum penalty to give them a chance of a draw, they will be looking for more consistency.
The Lions also lost some crucial line-outs, something Malcolm Marx will be looking to iron out of his game.
They also gave the Sharks a chance to get back in the game at the death when they failed to give Rohan Janse van Rensburg sufficient support and the Sharks turned the ball over. Do this against the Crusaders and you feel there would have been a different result.
Evan O’Connor, Pundit Arena