The Stormers’ bonus-point win against the Bulls was the most significant result in the combined African group in round one, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Sharks were the best South African team on show in round one. They played an attractive brand of rugby, and scored more tries (six) than any other local side.
It was a good start in the sense that they bagged five log points. They now top the Africa 2 conference as well as the Africa group.
That said, Gary Gold and company would do well to view the result and performance in perspective. The Kings were always expected to struggle in their comeback season to Super Rugby. This past weekend, they were easily the worst team on show in Africa 2.
While the Sharks showed promise in Port Elizabeth, they should only be judged after they’ve played the better sides in Africa 2, as well as the five teams from New Zealand. Their season is set to get a lot tougher.
It may be too soon to talk the Stormers up, but there’s no denying that their draw in Africa 1 is more favourable than that of the teams in Africa 2. And on Saturday, the Cape side made the best possible start to their 2016 campaign when they scored a bonus-point win against the Bulls at Newlands.
The Stormers were inconsistent in that match, but still managed to win 33-9. At this stage, they look to be in a better space than the other sides in Africa 1, namely the Bulls, Cheetahs and the new franchise from Japan, the Sunwolves.
Initially, the Bulls vs Stormers matches were tipped as potential conference deciders. The Stormers have taken an early lead in that one-on-one battle.
One cannot see the Cheetahs in their current guise competing for the conference title. It will be interesting to see how they go against the Bulls in later rounds, as the side from Pretoria is young and may struggle to improve on their showing in round one.
Even if the Stormers fall to the Brumbies and Waratahs, who both looked impressive in round one, they may still do enough to top Africa 1. Those matches will indicate whether the Stormers can go further than the first round of the play-offs.
As expected, Africa 2 promises to be more competitive than Africa 1. The Sharks made a statement with their attacking intent in round one. The Lions became the first side to play the Sunwolves in Tokyo, and while it was not a polished performance, they still managed to secure a bonus-point win.
So much has been made, and rightly so, about the Africa 2 teams facing the New Zealand franchises in 2016. The sides in Africa 1 will play the relatively weaker Australian franchises this season. With this in mind, the Sharks and Lions face a big challenge. It will be interesting to see which of the two teams manages to score wins against Kiwi opposition, and thus which team climbs the Africa 2 conference ladder.
And yet there is another significant challenge for the South African teams in Africa 2. The Jaguares had their problems with ill-discipline when they faced the Cheetahs this past Friday, but still managed to fight back from 24-3 down to win 34-33.
Injuries and fatigue (the Argentinian and Japanese franchises will travel extensively in 2016) may take a toll on the Jaguares later in the tournament. For now, they remain a threat.
If they beat the Sharks at Kings Park this coming weekend, they will have two wins from two away matches. They will enjoy a bye in round three, which will allow them a great opportunity to prepare for home matches against the Chiefs and Stormers.
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