For the Lions, 37-year-old prop veteran Jannie du Plessis played 40 minutes, while new captain Elton Jantjies was as sound as ever as chief playmaker
There was lots of good, some bad, and even a bit of the ugly in yesterday’s final big pre-season Super Rugby warm-up when the four local franchises entertained the 50 000 fans who turned up to be a part of the second Superhero Sunday carnival.
Kitted out in their Marvel-character outfits, the Stormers (Thor) beat the Sharks (Black Panther) 21-19 while in the late fixture, the Bulls (Captain America) beat the Lions (Spiderman) 40-35 in a high-scoring and entertaining but error-strewn game.
The results will mean nothing to coaches and the players – even if the fans of the winning teams will have bragging rights for a few days – rather it is the performances of their respective teams that Ivan van Rooyen, Pote Human, Sean Everitt and John Dobson would have been most interested in.
All four teams delivered strong set-pieces and attacked nicely, but Lions boss Van Rooyen will certainly have a look into his team’s discipline and decision-making, while the players’ handling – both passing and catching – was at times very poor.
The Bulls weren’t much better and they let quite a few try-scoring chances also go begging.
And even though the Bulls-Lions match was the more entertaining, the Sharks and Stormers produced more clinical, less error-ridden rugby. It will be interesting to see how the four teams develop over the course of the 2020 Super Rugby competition.
The Stormers’ Springboks – mainly Siya Kolisi and Steven Kitshoff – looked a little rusty still, even though Kolisi enjoyed playing in the space offered to him at eighthman and he made a few strong runs against the Sharks.
Damian Willemse was solid at 10, while World Cup hero Herschel Jantjies scored two tries for his team – both excellently taken efforts – but he also made a few errors, once throwing a defensive pass right over the head of Willemse into the dead-ball area.
For the Sharks, wings Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi looked a cut above the rest and full of attacking intent and both men crossed for tries. Mapimpi scored twice, the first try a carbon-copy of his World Cup final effort when he collected a chipped kick into space by Lukhanyo Am to run in untouched. Also impressive was fullback Aphelele Fassi, who could become one of this country’s big stars in 2020.
There were no real standout performers for the Bulls and Lions, but veteran No 10 Morne Steyn delivered a polished performance for the Pretoria team. At 35 he looks as young and fit as ever and varied his game well so early in the season. His goal-kicking was exemplary, too. The other big name recruits, loose-forward Josh Strauss and lock Juandre Kruger, weren’t at their best but they will be better as the season unfolds.
For the Lions, 37-year-old prop veteran Jannie du Plessis played 40 minutes, while new captain Elton Jantjies was as sound as ever as chief playmaker.
Outside him, the new centre pairing of Dan Kriel and Duncan Matthews, who both scored tries, looked comfortable and in synch and they, too, should get better as the Super Rugby competition unfolds.
Jamba Ulengo, on the wing, was also a powerful presence, as was almost forgotten Bok wing Courtnall Skosan, who scored a wonderful try after leaping high and taking the ball out of the air from a Jantjies cross-field kick.
The good news is there are still two weeks to go before kick-off and the coaches still have some time to correct the issues that will have troubled them yesterday.
There shouldn’t be too many areas of concern though; rather just a bit of tweaking that’s needed here and there.