Jaguares, Sunwolves make exciting starts to Super Rugby
SYDNEY – Newcomers Japan’s Sunwolves and Argentina’s Jaguares had mixed fortunes as the curtain rose on the new Super Rugby season this weekend, while last year’s finalists both lost their opening games.
The Sunwolves gave a good account of themselves in front of a 25,000 full house in Tokyo before going down to South Africa’s Golden Lions 26-13 in a pulsating game.
But the Jaguares made an emphatic statement in their tournament debut in South Africa, edging the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein 34-33 after trailing by 21 points and playing 10 minutes with 13 players.
The third new side in this season’s expanded 18-team competition, the Southern Kings, crashed 43-8 to the Coastal Sharks in an all South African encounter in Port Elizabeth.
Defending champions Otago Highlanders and last season’s runners-up Wellington Hurricanes both stumbled in their season openers.
The Highlanders slumped to a 33-31 loss against the Auckland Blues, now coached by All Blacks legend Tana Umaga, while the Hurricanes were hammered 52-10 by the rampant ACT Brumbies in Canberra.
The New South Wales Waratahs, winners in 2014, scored a bonus point 30-10 over the Queensland Reds in an uninspiring Australian derby in Sydney, while the 2012-13 champions Waikato Chiefs held out five-time winners Canterbury Crusaders 27-21 in Christchurch.
In the weekend’s other games, fly-half Robert du Preez totted up 23 points as Western Stormers battered Northern Bulls 33-9 in Cape Town and the Melbourne Rebels downed the Western Force 25-19 in Perth.
Most interest centred on the Sunwolves’ and Jaguares’ entries into the five-nation tournament, and they did not disappoint.
The Sunwolves frustrated the Lions for long periods amid visions of Japan’s shock 34-32 upset win over two-time champion Springboks at last year’s World Cup before the Johannesburg-based Lions gained the upper hand.
“We can always handle losing if we know the players have given everything, so I’m very proud,” said Sunwolves’ coach Mark Hammett, a former All Black who only just made it back to Japan after flying home to New Zealand following the death of his mother last week.
The Jaguares were most impressive in winning their first match in their South African-dominated group, after recovering from a rocky start and trailing 24-17 at half-time.
Fielding many stars who helped Argentina finish fourth at the 2015 World Cup, scrum-half Martin Landajo scored the decisive fourth Argentine try 15 minutes from time.
“We played with a lot of heart when down to 13 men,” said winning skipper and hooker Agustin Creevy, referring to the 18th-minute sin binnings of halves Nicolas Sanchez (professional foul) and Landajo (foul play).
The Highlanders, who largely flew under the radar to the title last year, were denied in Auckland by the rejuvenated Blues in an entertaining match in which the lead changed hands four times.
The Hurricanes were blown away by the well-drilled Brumbies, with skipper Stephen Moore and Argentina Pumas’ scrum-half Tomas Cubelli in great form.
The Brumbies humbled the Hurricanes seven tries to one and the two-time winners were always in command, leading 24-3 at half-time and romping away in the second-half to a bonus-point victory.
In a frustrating Australian derby in Sydney, the Waratahs — now coached by former All Black Daryl Gibson — looked superior for large tracts of a poor spectacle, scoring four tries to one, but failed to build on their 20-0 half-time lead and were held 10-10 by the limited Reds in a dour second-half. – Nampa-AFP