And, it looks as if the Cheetahs still have some way to go before they click under new coach Franco Smith. The same though cannot be said of the Bulls, who shone under new boss Nollis Marais.
It was an opening weekend where the results pretty much went according to expectations, with the Lions and Province laying down early markers, while the Bulls showed they could again be a force. The surprise result came from the Pumas, who bested the Sharks, but most worrying was the performance of the EP Kings.
The Port Elizabeth-based side were completely dominated by last year’s runners-up, the Lions, with flank Kwagga Smith getting a hat-trick of tries and flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff kicking 21 points. It was a stunning display by Johan Ackermann’s men and it looks as if they’re well on course to again be a major factor this season.
Sadly, the Kings – who’ve experienced a number of off-field issues in recent weeks – looked a far cry from a Currie Cup side, let alone a Super Rugby outfit. They managed just one win in last year’s Currie Cup and on the evidence of what we saw from them on Saturday will do well to better that mark this year. And, let’s not forget, they’re set to return to Super Rugby next season.
But, it wasn’t only the Lions who looked a class act on the opening weekend of action. WP completely outplayed Griquas in Kimberley and also look to be well on course to feature in the knockout rounds, while the Bulls won the battle of the new coaches in Bloemfontein.
Discarded Bok Francois Hougaard enjoyed a good outing, along with several of his teammates, and if Marais can build on the performance it may not be too long before the famed Pretoria team are again at the top of the local rugby pile.
The performance of the weekend, though, belonged to the Pumas. Rookie coach MJ Mentz has continued where Jimmy Stonehouse left off, ensuring the so-called little guys remain a competitive unit. They were fully deserving of their win against the more experienced Sharks and will be a tough team to beat at home, if not everywhere they travel over the next few weeks.
Their ability to win away from Nelspruit will be tested as early as this weekend when they head to Ellis Park for a clash with the Lions, and what a game it promises to be. The Bulls entertain Griquas on Friday and one can expect another five-point haul by the men in blue, while Western Province at Newlands should have too much firepower for Smith’s Cheetahs. The Sharks will also bounce back at home against the Kings.
Kings 14 Lions 51
Cheetahs 19 Bulls 57
Pumas 33 Sharks 24
Griquas 19 WP 43
Friday: Lions v Pumas 7.10pm; Bulls v Griquas 7.10pm
Saturday: WP v Cheetahs 3pm; Sharks v Kings 5.05pm - The Star
Original source: Lions, WP, Bulls all hit top form