If the Proteas got a rude awakening in the form of Mitchell Johnson, the Cheetahs got it in the shape of the Lions.
Were Graeme Smith and Co complacent? Did they under-estimate just how well Johnson is bowling at the moment? We might not get the full, honest, answer to that, but what can be said with near certainty is that the Cheetahs under-estimated the Lions.
Naka Drotske’s men were sloppy in most areas, bar defence, in the Super Rugby opener in Bloemfontein on Saturday – and the Lions capitalised. Sure, it took a bit of luck, with the Cheetahs’ goal-kickers misfiring and the Lions No 10 slotting a long-distance drop goal late on to secure the victory. But it reminds us no team should be written off.
I’ll admit that I expected the Cheetahs to win comfortably at the weekend. Nothing in the makeup of the teams could persuade me to think otherwise, but I was wrong. I don’t think the Cheetahs will be as lackadaisical again and you can be sure they will come out guns blazing against the Bulls this weekend.
But while the Lions won at the weekend, thanks to the unerring boot of Marnitz Boshoff, they face an altogether different challenge this weekend.
The Stormers would have learned plenty from watching proceedings unfold in Bloemfontein and, if there were any thoughts of their trip to Ellis Park being an easy one, they will now be very much on guard. This will be a fantastic test for the young, and now upbeat and confident, Lions, who are on home soil and taking on a side who only get their campaign under way this weekend. Could they surprise again? Lions fans will say “absolutely”!
If matters in Bloemfontein didn’t quite go according to the script, they certainly did in Durban. The Sharks were superior in all departments to the Bulls and fully deserved their victory. Jake White’s side looked like a team on a mission; the Bulls looked as if they were making up the numbers.
It’s going to be interesting to see how long Frans Ludeke and Co stick with Pierre Spies as captain now that Victor Matfield is back – and seemingly calling the shots, even from the side of the field. Because, if you are going to have such an experienced and prominent figure as Matfield in the ranks, then surely he must be the man to lead the youngsters, more so when you consider he has been so involved in the coaching structures over the past two years.
It’s still early days, but already it looks like the Bulls face a tough season, the Sharks seem all-powerful, the Lions may not be the whipping boys we all expected them to be and the Cheetahs have been given a royal kick up the backside. Welcome back, Super Rugby - The Star