The Lions celebrated their return to Vodacom Super Rugby with a good win over the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein before the Cell C Sharks showed they mean business in 2014 with a bonus-point victory over the Vodacom Bulls in Durban.
For the Cell C Sharks, under a new coach in former Springbok mentor Jake White, it was a perfect start to the season. They got their fourth try at the death of their 31-16 win after scoring three great five-pointers in the first 40.
Interestingly enough, it was the first time ever the Cell C Sharks managed to score a bonus-point victory at home in February, when Durban’s notorious high heat and humidity play havoc with handling.
In fact, it was only the second time since the inception of Vodacom Super Rugby that a side managed four February tries at Growthpoint Kings – the Toyota Cheetahs did just that when they beat the KwaZulu-Natalians by 27-26 in 2006.
Yesterday however the Cell C Sharks were firmly in control, but the Toyota Cheetahs’ performance was unlike that day when they won in Durban in 2006 – they came unstuck against a spirited Lions side that shocked a lot of people with a 21-20 victory in Bloemfontein.
Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff contributed all of his team’s points with a near flawless kicking display – he slotted all six his attempts at penalty goals and got one from two drop-goals. His opposite numbers though struggled with the boot and between Johan Goosen and Elgar Watts, they squandered nine points with missed kicks at goal.
Boshoff’s exploits were similar to those of Elton Jantjies in 2012, when the currently injured Lions flyhalf kicked all of his team’s points as they beat the Toyota Cheetahs by 27-25 in the opening round.
The DHL Stormers had a bye this weekend but will be in action next week when the teams from Down Under also get in on the action.
Toyota Cheetahs 20 (10) Lions 21 (9)
Marnitz Boshoff, making his Vodacom Super Rugby debut, broke the Toyota Cheetahs’ hearts with a 78th minute drop-goal to help the Lions to a good 21-20 victory in the opening match of the season at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein.
Even though they were outscored by two tries to nil, the Lions – back in Vodacom Super Rugby after missing out last season – never gave up. The home side simply gave away too many kickable penalties and Boshoff duly made the scoreboard tick over when he got an opportunity.
And when the Lions played themselves into a promising attacking position late in the match, fans of the Toyota Cheetahs must’ve been on the edge of their seats. Boshoff’s antics were enough for the visitors as he pushed his personal tally to 21 points thanks to six penalty goals and a drop goal.
Both sides showed some early-season rustiness and they were very keen on throwing the ball around, which resulted in way too many unforced errors.
The Toyota Cheetahs though did get the first two tries of the season after some enterprising play – first by Raymond Rhule and in the second half Cornal Hendricks, who was this week named the SA Sevens Player of 2013, capped his Vodacom Super Rugby debut with a good try.
For the Lions, this was just the way to re-enter Vodacom Super Rugby, while last season’s surprise package, the Toyota Cheetahs, will be left wondering where things went awry for them.
Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Raymond Rhule, Cornal Hendricks. Conversions: Johan Goosen (2). Penalty goals: Goosen, Elgar Watts.
Lions – Penalty goals: Marnitz Boshoff (6). Drop goal: Boshoff.
Cell C Sharks 31 (23) Vodacom Bulls 16 (9)
The Cell C Sharks, thanks mainly to a superb first-half effort, got their season off to a great start when they beat the Vodacom Bulls by 31-16 at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban on Saturday evening.
The home side scored three crucial tries in the first 40 minutes of a match that was played at a great pace by two teams having a full go.
The Cell C Sharks though were more composed, took their chances and bagged the points. On the other hand, the Vodacom Bulls were not patient enough on the attack and didn’t convert their opportunities into points.
Their maul was very good, but the team from Pretoria got very little reward when they came within striking distance. Their only try, by Jono Ross late in the second half, came from a rolling maul.
The home team though looked sharp on the attack and scored three great tries in the first half, followed by a crucial fourth one, by Pat Lambie, in injury time.
The first two tries came from Paul Jordaan, after a sniping run by Lwazi Mvovo, and Cobus Reinach. However, Odwa Ndungane’s superb effort in the right-hand corner, coming from a pin-point cross-kick by Frans Steyn after the buzzer in the first half, was probably the pick of the tries this weekend.
Cell C Sharks – Tries: Paul Jordaan, Cobus Reinach, Odwa Ndungane, Pat Lambie. Conversion: Pat Lambie. Penalty goals: Lambie (3).
Vodacom Bulls – Try: Jono Ross. Conversion: Handré Pollard. Penalty goals: Louis Fouché (2). Drop-goal: Fouché.