As many predicted, or feared, the first round delivered its fair share of surprises. None more so than the Cheetahs’ upsetting loss to the visiting Lions. I am personally still recovering from the shock of it all and quite appalled at the manner in which the Bloemfontein hosts carried themselves. On the other hand, the Sharks started their campaign with a bang and seemingly without effort; running in four tries against a rather hapless Bulls side.
Cheetahs 20 – 21 Lions
I did not expect much from the opening round of Super Rugby 2014 as pre-season warm-ups and all that flies right out the window when the results start counting on the log. However, I did not expect the Cheetahs to look so extremely out of sorts, especially in the second half. The nerves should’ve been settled and the team should have shifted gears for the second 40, deny the Lions possession and close the match. Instead they lost their way completely and underestimated their opponents. It was diabolical to watch.
Johan Goosen was not on song, missing kicks that ultimately cost the game as much as the unforgivable miss from in front of the posts by replacement Elgar Watts. On top of that it seems that the youngster is destined to suffer another year with injuries, receiving treatment no less than three times before leaving the field. The pack was good, but far from dominating and got shoved backwards too often in the latter stages of the game. Hats off to Adriaan Strauss who refused to go down without a fight, but they left themselves vulnerable for far too long. Handling errors and unnecessary risks contributed too many a missed opportunity, even though their defense held out. This loss will hopefully give the players a wake-up call and I truly hope that Naka Drotskè also gets his act together. It is not compulsory to use substitutes and you should not do so unless it is really called for – a player really having a bad day or when injury strikes. Just replacing guys for the hell of it is just not on. The team did not have time to find their feet properly in the second half before needless replacements took place – Naka is as much to blame for the loss and his unprepared players.
I’m not going to overly praise the Lions for their win, even though they deserved it. They were by no means very threatening or accurate in their execution, but their forwards did stand up well against the farmers and by taking every single point on offer, they ultimately headed back to Jo’burg on cloud nine. Marnitz Boshoff kept the gold diggers in touch throughout the match with a solid performance and a 100% kicking record, including a deftly drop goal at the death to sneak ahead and with only a minute left on the clock, the team only had to keep their composure and wait for the time to run out. Well done Lions, keep up the good work, but don’t let this win go to your heads – competition is going to get a lot tougher.
Sharks 31 – 16 Bulls
With my spirit already down in the dumps after game one, all anticipations flew out the window as I tuned in for the battle in the Shark Tank. And thankfully so as the match had far less entertainment value than the score-line suggests. The Bulls where nowhere, period. One cannot really find fault with the way the Banana Boys handled the match in the slippery conditions, my dark mood as a result of game one probably had a negative effect on the way I viewed the match.
All and all Jake White’s troops looked in complete control, stuck to the basics, took the points on offer and finished the few moments of brilliance off well. There were only a handful of highlights with Pat Lambie topping the list with his new attacking playing style. The newly appointed captain Bismarck du Plessis had a uncharacteristically quiet evening, but his ball stealing efforts weren’t missed that much with Marcell Coetzee stepping up to fetching plate in emphatic fashion. One guy to keep an eye on would definitely be Paul Jordaan who showed a clean pair of heels whenever he got the chance to show off his lightning speed.
I have high hopes for the Sharks this season, they have an air of determination about them and looked very comfortable during their account opener. Five points on the log and very little to iron out ahead of their meeting with the Hurricanes.
By Jackie Smit