The Jaguares from Argentina and the Sunwolves from Japan made their debuts in the new, expanded tournament format, while the re-entry of the Southern Kings means that South Africa fielded six teams in the tournament for the first time.
The DHL Stormers got the Robbie Fleck era as coach off to a perfect start in the late fixture at DHL Newlands on Saturday as they saw off their arch rivals, the Vodacom Bulls, with a deserved 33-9 home win.
In Port Elizabeth, the Southern Kings were outscored by six tries to one by the Cell C Sharks who spoilt the home side’s return to the competition with a comprehensive 43-8 victory in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The Emirates Lions also bagged a full house of log points as they scored four tries to one in their 26-13 success over Japanese debutants Sunwolves at a packed Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday morning.
The Jaguares from Argentina celebrated their debut in the competition with a memorable 34-33 win over the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday evening.
The Argentinians fought their way back from two yellow cards and a 21-point deficit to serve notice of their long awaited presence in the revamped competition.
Furthermore, the first round also saw several promising South African youngsters getting a first run at Vodacom Super Rugby level. Junior Springboks Ox Nche, Malcolm Jaer, Jean-Luc du Preez, Hyron Andrews, JD Schickerling, Leolin Zas, Warrick Gelant, Jannes Kirsten, RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins all got their first taste of action in the tough competition.
While there have been many sets of brothers to play Vodacom Super Rugby, the Cell C Sharks’ Du Preez twins, Jean-Luc and Daniel, became only the fifth set of twins to play at this level when Jean-Luc made his debut this weekend.
The other four sets of twins in Vodacom Super Rugby are the Ndunganes (Akona and Odwa), the Ebersohns (Sias and Robert), the Fainga’as (Saia and Anthony) and the Smiths (JP and Ruan). The Vodacom Bulls have a set of twins in their wider squad, Jesse and Dan Kriel, but the latter has not yet made his debut at this level.
DHL Stormers (9) 33, Vodacom Blue Bulls (6) 9
The Stormers were solid on defence and kept the young Bulls team tryless in front of over 40 000 spectators at DHL Newlands to collect a try-scoring bonus point in terms of the new rules of the competition.
Robbie Fleck’s team, superbly led by Springbok centre Juan de Jongh, secured their bonus point with a huge driving maul that allowed replacement hooker Scarra Ntubeni to crash over in the final minutes of the match.
Young flyhalf Robert du Preez showed great composure and plenty of promise as he delivered an impressive display which saw him crowned player of the match. The debutant Stormers No 10 scored 23 points after slotting three conversions, four penalties and also scoring a try. Towering Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth was the other Stormers try scorer, while Bulls flyhalf Francois Brummer kicked three penalties.
DHL Stormers 33 – Tries: Robert du Preez, Eben Etzebeth and Scarra Ntubeni; Conversions: Du Preez (3); Penalties: Du Preez (4).
Vodacom Bulls 9 – Penalties: Francois Brummer (3).
Southern Kings (8) 8 Cell C Sharks (15) 43
The Sharks were held to a 15-8 lead at half-time as the Kings gave a spirited performance in the first half. However, the Sharks’ greater experience showed in a dominant second half display and they eventually won the match comfortably with a bonus point margin.
Two tries by veteran wing Odwa Ndungane, coupled with a strong forward performance and some sparkling runs by Springbok fullback Willie Le Roux were the hallmarks of a successful day at the office for the Durban side.
Chris Cloete opened the scoring for the home side with a well-worked try, however, the Sharks soon took control and scored six unanswered tries.
Southern Kings 8 – Try: Chris Cloete. Penalty: Elgar Watts
Cell C Sharks 43 – Tries: Odwa Ndungane (2), Jean-Luc du Preez, Lwazi Mvovo, Willie Le Roux, Paul Jordaan. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (5). Penalty: Pietersen.
Sunwolves (6) 13, Emirates Lions (12) 26
The Lions had to fight hard for their victory and the yellow card of influential Sunwolves fly half, Tusi Pisi, 15 minutes from the end probably tipped the game finally in their favour.
The Sunwolves fought back well from a 19-6 deficit and were just about to set the scene for a close finish when pivot Pisi was yellow carded.
The Lions, sensing the advantage, sent on replacement hooker Malcolm Marx, who gave a strong performance in his time on the field. The former Junior Springbok hooker stormed through the Sunwolves defence to set up a try for impressive midfielder Lionel Mapoe. Elton Jantjies, who missed with several kicks earlier, converted to stretch the winning margin to 13 points.
Emirates Lions 26 – Tries: Robbie Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan, Jaco Kriel and Lionel Mapoe. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3).
Sunwolves 13 – Try: Shota Horie. Conversion: Tusi Pisi. Penalties: Tusi Pisi (2).
Toyota Cheetahs (24) 33 Jaguares (17) 34
The teams scored four tries each and it was the drop goal by flyhalf Nicholas Sanchez which proved to be the difference between the two sides. Sanchez was the best performer for the visitors and he also slotted four conversions and a penalty.
Sanchez combined well with two-try hero Martin Landajo (scrumhalf) as the duo showed why they are considered key figures for the Argentine side. However, both players were also guilty of ill-discipline and both received yellow cards, reducing their team to 13 players at one stage.
Teammate Thomas Lavanini was also fortunate not to get his marching orders for his late tackle on try-scorer William Small-Smith. Lavanini was later cited and must now appear before a judicial hearing.
The Cheetahs took full advantage of the visitors’ indiscipline as they opened up a 24-3 lead early on, which included a penalty try. But the Jaguares moved up a gear in the second half to eventually clinch a historic and thrilling encounter in Bloemfontein.
Toyota Cheetahs 33 – Tries: Francois Venter, Penalty Try, Torsten van Jaarsveld, William Small-Smith. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (2). Penalties: Zeilinga (2), Neil Marais (1).
Jaguares 34 – Tries: Martin Landajo (2), Agustin Creevy, Rodrigo Baez. Conversions: Nicolas Sanchez (4). Penalty: Sanchez. Drop goal: Sanchez.
Original source: Winning starts for Stormers, Lions, Sharks