Between trying to keep tabs on all the sporting action this weekend, I caught the tail end of the Super 15 game between the Blue Bulls and Lions and was taken aback to the reigning Super 14 champions the Bull Bulls narrowly beat the Lions 24 – 20 in front of an almost packed Coca Cola Stadium.
The Bulls seemed lucky that the Lions never got them by the throat but given the odds on an encounter between the two teams, they nonetheless had their pride wounded.
And the Lions could very well have dealt them a death blow if they hadn’t missed two conversions.
If that game’s score is anything to go by, the Lions may finally become a force to be reckoned with this year.
Last season the Bulls normally ran circles around them and they ended up as a pack of kittens at the bottom of the log with only 5 bonus points and having lost all 13 games they played.
But I suppose the Lions’ turnaround was expected with the likes of former All Blacks coach John Mitchell taking over as their new coach and the signing of former Cheetahs wing Lionel Mapoe, former Bulls hooker and former Sharks prop Pat Cilliers, as well as former Sharks scrum half Rory Kockott to form a new-look team.
It’s still a long season ahead though and time will tell if they can sustain their momentum.
There are more games than before to be played as the new format sees franchises playing against their local opponents before taking on their international counterparts in the next round.
Travelling to Australasia is known to take its toll on the players’ fitness.
Besides, the Bulls didn’t lose and have yet to shed their reputation for sneaking up from behind to clinch the cup. As they did last year when they topped the table with 47 points after13 games.
They are also the only South African franchise to win the Super 14 three times. Once in 2007 and then back-to-back 2009 and 2010.
The Bulls are also ranked number 1 in the competition as favourites to win this year’s Super 15.
Perhaps part of the reason last year’s losers came so close to beating the top ranking team was the concern of this being a World Cup.
The Bulls have a lot of Springboks in their team and I think the top players are holding back a bit in order to avoid injury. No one wants to miss out on that trip to New Zealand, especially when it might be their last one.
Meanwhile, the Cheetahs have been rather slow out of the starting blocks. They lost 9 – 24 to the sharks in the earlier game of the day.
Capetonians, although they had their hopes dashed in the final play-off last year, believe their team just may have what it takes this time around. Next weekend’s clash between them and the Lions will give us an inkling of how sharp the Gauteng franchises teeth have become.
I will certainly be in my front row seat come 7pm Saturday when the Stormers blow them away.
Next weekend the Bulls travel to Bloemfontein to face off with the Cheetahs and the Sharks play New Zealand’s Blues at King’s park. — Yugendree Naidoo, West Cape News