Super Rugby Week One: The African Conferences

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRUARY 25: Siya Kolisi (captain) of the Stormers goes over to score a try during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls at DHL Newlands on February 25, 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Thinus Maritz/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Super Rugby Week One proved to be a little disappointing for the teams in the South African Conferences. We take a water-cooler chat look at the games they played in.

Super Rugby Week One: The African Conferences

Reds vs Cell C Sharks

Reds 28 – Tries: Scott Higginbotham, Samu Kerevi 2 and James Tuttle; Conversion: Quade Cooper; Penalties: Quade Cooper 2

Cell C Sharks 26 – Tries: Jean-Luc du Preez and Tera Mtembu; Conversions: Patrick Lambie 2; Penalties: Patrick Lambie 2

Many Sharks fans may feel a little aggrieved that their team lost their match up against the Reds in Brisbane. The Sharks were in the lead for the bulk of the game and it was the try scored by James Tuttle that handed the Reds the lead. The flat pass by Quade Cooper that lead to Tuttle’s try would may have failed muster if properly viewed by the TMO. Flyhalf Patrick Lambie also had the opportunity to snatch the lead back four minutes from time, but pushed the penalty kick wide.

Taking a look at some of the match statistics does paint a different picture though.  They simply did not play enough with the ball in hand and relied far too much on the boot. They made 175 tackles to the Reds 67. They were outscored two tries to one and lost the possession count 56% to 44%. The Reds carried the ball for 806 meters compared to the Sharks 296 meters. They Sharks kicked the ball for a total of 629 meters compared to the Reds 356 meters.

We will have to give new Head Coach a little time to settle in with his Super Rugby squad, but one thing is for sure. They need to work on retaining possession and not kick it away.

The Sharks will not have lock Ettienne Oosthuizen available for the next two weeks as he has been suspended for two weeks for striking an opponent.

Toyota Cheetahs vs Emirates Lions

Toyota Cheetahs 25 – Try: Raymond Rhule. Conversion: Fred Zeilinga. Penalties: Zeilinga (6)

Emirates Lions  28 – Tries: Rohan Janse van Rensburg (2), Penalty try. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (3)

This game was keenly anticipated as the Lions have become known for their running rugby and the Cheetahs, always known for their love of playing with the ball in hand, who played a high paced game in their successful Currie Cup campaign in 2016. Underfoot conditions were a little treacherous after torrential downpours earlier in the week and both teams struggled to deliver the high octane game that was anticipated.

The fact that Cheetahs flyhalf Fred Zeilinga won the man-of-the-match award for his kicking display in a losing effort does point towards how tight the game was. This was a little surprising as the Lions have enjoyed an average of a 15 point winning margin in four of their last five encounters.

The Lions may have been a little off-colour and this Cheetahs squad making a step out to Super Rugby, but both showed enough to give their supporters encouragement for the 2017 Super Rugby season. The Lions will want to be competing at the sharp end again and the Cheetahs moving themselves up the overall conference standings.

Lions center Howard Mnisi has been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering multiple ligament injuries.

Southern Kings vs Jaguares

Kings 26 – Tries: Makazole Mapimpi, Luzuko Vulindlu. Conversions: Lionel Cronje (2) Penalties: Cronje (4)

Jaguares 39 – Tries: Gonzalo Bertranou, Leonardo Senatore, Joaquin Tuculet. Conversions: Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias (2). Penalties: Bonilla (3), Iglesias (3)

Houston….. we have a problem… It is obvious that both sides are really struggling in the competition and we don’t to be rocket scientists to work that out. The Jaguares have enough Pumas Test players to be more than competitive in Super Rugby. Other than their poor discipline, it is unfathomable that they cannot make a success of their inclusion in the competition. They once again let themselves down on the discipline front against the Kings and were punished with two yellow cards for cynical offences. With the talent they have at their disposal, an arm wrestle against the Kings in Port Elizabeth should never be their lot.  They did pull off the win and they are now off to Cape Town to face the Stormers.

For the Kings part, there is a lot to be concerned about. They certainly did have a huge churn of player resources, but they also had a much better glide path into the 2017 Super Rugby season than they had in 2016. In retrospect, their choice of warm up games might have hampered the start of the Kings season. Warm up games are usually irrelevant as they are used to test structures and not much more. Doing so against your First Division (second level) franchise partners who are not actively preparing for a competition questions the wisdom of doing so. The Kings conditioning is also a concern as a number of their players were seen to be struggling with cramp in the final quarter. They may be in some trouble in the heat and humidity of Singapore, where they meet up with fellow strugglers the Sunwolves next.

The Kings were simply too passive on defense and the allowed the Jaguares to build momemtum.The Kings relied on the boot of flyhalf Lionel Cronje to build an early lead. The intent of the Jaguarez to run the ball exposed the Kings lax defense and they used the opportunity offload. The Jaguarez did not necessarily dominate any significant key game statistics, but their decision making and execution was far superior, leading to more tries.

DHL Stormers vs Vodacom Bulls

DHL Stormers 37 – Tries: SP Marais, Cheslin Kolbe, Nizaam Carr, Nizaam Carr, Dillyn Leyds; Conversions: Jean-Luc du Plessis 3; Penalty: Jean-Luc du Plessis 2

Vodacom Bulls 24 – Tries: Hanro Liebenberg 2, Pierre Schoeman and Piet van Zyl; Conversions: Handre Pollard and Tian Schoeman

This match was as keenly anticipated as any Test match and was expected to play out like a Test match. A tough, tight affair. The Stormers did not follow the script though and ran the ball a lot more than expected. Neutral followers of the game would also be surprised that Stormers hooker Bongi Mbonambi escaped with no more than a a penalty for stamping on an opponent laying on the ground. The usual sanction for this is a red card and it is irrelevant if the player on the ground is holding on to the offending player.

That being said, the Stormers took free kicks and penalties quickly, leaving the Bulls to scramble on defense, confused by a more rapid tempo of play than was expected. The Stormers scrum was also a major surprise in this game. On paper, the Bulls have built up an impressive pack of forwards. They were humbled by the superior power and technique of the Stormers pack. For their part, the Bulls were their own worst enemies. They allowed themselves to become flustered and the level of panicked play will be more than slightly embarrassing during the weekly video session.

Quite frankly, the Bulls paid a heavy price for not pitching up in the first half and the Stormers put them to the sword. Two key issues that the Bulls will have to work on before they take on the Cheetahs this weekend will certainly be their poor performance at scrum time and the speed at which starting scrumhalf Rudi Paige clears the ball from scrums and rucks.

The Stormers will have to do without Springbok center Damian de Allende for the next 12 weeks as he recuperates from an ankle injury suffered during the game.

Sunwolves vs Hurricanes

Sunwolves 17 – Tries: Riaan Viljoen, Shokei Kin, Willie Britz; Conversion: Timothy Lafaele

Hurricanes 83 – Tries: Ardie Savea (2), Michael Fatialofa (2), Vince Aso, Ricky Riccitelli, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea, Ngani Laumape, Blade Thomson, Brad Shields, Vince Aso, Wes Goosen; Conversions: Otere Black (9)

As the Sunwolves form part of the African Conference group, we will include them in our weekly wraps. For a detailed analysis of the game, read more here. From a South African perspective, this game saw the debut of former Stormers winger Egon Seconds as a Super Rugby referee.
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