Lions, Stormers win to open Super Rugby season in S. Africa
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The Lions began their latest quest for a first Super Rugby title with a slender 26-19 win over the Sharks on Saturday, a morale-boosting start for the losing finalist of the last two years against a team seen as its strongest challenger in the South African conference.
The Lions came back from an early try by new Sharks flyhalf Robert du Preez to score four of their own at home at Ellis Park, two to outside center Lionel Mapoe.
The Lions backs were given a platform by a dominant scrum, and the Johannesburg-based team was clinical enough with attacking opportunities to hand new coach Swys de Bruin a winning start.
Still, there were nervous moments in the dying minutes when the Lions clung on to deny the Sharks three times from lineouts five meters out.
“Proud of the guys for sticking it through, especially at the end there,” said Lions and Springboks captain Warren Whiteley, who was back from a long injury layoff that saw him miss last year’s final.
“We know we need to up our performance if we want to compete in the business end of this competition.”
Earlier, the Stormers opened the new season with a 28-20 win over Argentina’s Jaguares at Newlands, where the Stormers also had to hold on in stages to come through.
Super Rugby kicked off with those two games in the South African conference. The New Zealand and Australian conferences start next week.
Du Preez ran over Springboks No. 10 Elton Jantjies to put the Sharks 7-0 up after seven minutes at Ellis Park.
The Lions responded twice, first when Mapoe took a flat pass from Jantjies to break through. Left wing Aphiwe Dyantyi scored the Lions’ second on his Super Rugby debut with a brilliant burst down the flank and chip and chase.
Sharks wing Sbu Nkosi scrambled over early in the second half to start a run of four tries in less than 20 minutes.
Mapoe responded for the Lions with his second, Makazole Mapimpi, the other Sharks wing, then scored, and flanker Kwagga Smith replied again for the home team.
In the crucial final minutes, the Sharks had three chances to get something from the game from attacking lineouts, and were repelled three times.
New Lions coach de Bruin took over at the end of last season and has a tough assignment after Johan Ackermann led the Lions to finals in 2016 and 2017.
In Cape Town, the Stormers led the Jaguares 22-6 after tries by Springboks Damian de Allende, Siya Kolisi and Raymond Rhule, who scored his straight from the second-half kickoff.
While the Jaguares paid the price for losing fullback Joaquin Tuculet to a yellow card in the first half, the momentum was reversed when Stormers hooker Ramone Samuels went to the bin for slowing down Jaguares possession in the 65th.
That gave the Jaguares, who had already struck back once through winger Emiliano Boffelli, complete scrum dominance. It told three minutes later when they earned a penalty try as the Stormers scrum disintegrated close to the tryline, closing t to 26-20.
The Stormers escaped under more pressure when its replacement front row, with center de Allende packing down at flank to even the numbers, won a scrum penalty to stop another surge by the Jaguares.
The Stormers sealed it with a penalty on the final whistle by flyhalf Damian Williemse.