The Lions underlined their enduring class, but the Bulls were the big winners from round two of Super Rugby, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
As the only South African side that missed the opening weekend of competition, there was heightened anticipation as to how the Bulls would fare in their first hit-out under new coach John Mitchell.
Plenty of pre-season talk has revolved around the new approach that Mitchell has looked to enforce at the Bulls, and there were certainly bold signs of that on Saturday as the Pretoria-based team complemented flair with both grit and determination to come away with a memorable win over the Hurricanes.
It was telling that against a Hurricanes side more renowned for its attacking ability, it was in fact the Bulls who made 448m to 354m, 125 carries to 87 and 152 passes to 116, while their set-piece and defensive fundamentals were solid.
There was a clear indication of a new desire for the Bulls to attack space and embrace a high-paced offloading game, and the end result was a rare victory over a top New Zealand team.
It should make for an enthralling clash when the Bulls come up against the Lions next weekend, with the latter having cruised to an emphatic 47-27 victory over the Jaguares on Saturday afternoon.
The Lions outscored the Jaguares seven tries to three, and the bonus-point win takes them to what has now become a customary position of ascendancy at the top of the South African conference.
Of course, it is too early to suggest that the Lions will certainly be the side to lead the SA challenge again this year, but there was enough evidence at Ellis Park to underline the fact that they will remain incredibly difficult to beat at home.
Once the Lions shook off some scrum trouble and displayed greater patience on attack, they proved to be far too classy for an outgunned Jaguares team, which was also reflected by the stats.
Overall, the Lions made 666m to 294m, 148 carries to 75, beat 49 defenders to 14, while completing 18 clean breaks to eight in addition to enjoying 65% of possession against a Jaguares side that missed a whopping 49 tackles.
Although the Lions – and particularly the Bulls – provided a good-news story for South African rugby, the Stormers endured some familiar problems against the Waratahs in Sydney.
Midway through the second half, the two teams were deadlocked at 24-24, but the Stormers were completely dominating at scrum time, while Waratahs lock Rob Simmons had been sent to the sin bin.
Yet the Stormers failed to make this advantage count as a result of some ill-discipline and basic errors, and a lost lineout on their own ball eventually enabled the Waratahs to score a match-winning try after the final hooter.
The Stormers will lament the one that got away – but they really only have themselves to blame – and will now head into challenging clashes against the Crusaders and Highlanders with some early-season pressure already beginning to build.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Super Rugby results from round two generally went in the expected direction, with the Crusaders surging past the Chiefs, while the Highlanders beat the Blues in a cracking New Zealand derby. The Brumbies battled past the Sunwolves and the Rebels beat a 14-man Reds side.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images