NSW, Stormers and Chiefs win; Super Rugby lands in Japan
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) Australia's New South Wales Waratahs and South Africa's Stormers were victorious in one-sided local derbies in the opening round of Super Rugby on Saturday. In New Zealand, the Chiefs clinched a tight local contest against the Crusaders with a late try.
Two of the new teams lost their opening games – as expected – with Japan's Sunwolves going down to the Johannesburg-based Lions 26-13 despite making a brave debut in Tokyo. In Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the Southern Kings lost at home to the Sharks 43-8, struggling on their return after a two-season absence.
Also, the Melbourne-based Rebels claimed a rare away win, 25-19, at the Perth-based Force in their all-Australian affair.
The long and mostly intense rivalry between the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland was no contest when the Waratahs rolled to a 30-10 home win over the Reds. The Waratahs scored four tries to one, racking up their fifth straight win over the Reds, in front of 24,044 at Sydney Football Stadium.
First-half tries to captain and openside flanker Michael Hooper, winger Matt Carraro, and David Horwitz set up a 20-0 halftime lead.
In Cape Town, the Stormers broke clear of the Bulls after a tight first half when flyhalf Robert du Preez threw a dummy and scampered in for a 51st-minute try that rewarded the home team for its dominance in the opening stages of the second half.
The Stormers went on to win 33-9, with Du Preez's opening try spurring them on. Springboks second-rower Eben Etzebeth rampaged over near the posts, and replacement hooker Scarra Ntubeni was at the back of a maul near the end to give Robbie Fleck a winning start as head coach.
Fleck was promoted after Eddie Jones backed out of his contract with the Stormers to take over England's national team.
Du Preez, whose father was a Springbok, collected 23 of the Stormers' points. The three-time champion Bulls, a team in transition anyway, sorely missed injured South Africa flyhalf Handre Pollard.
Earlier at Christchurch, New Zealand, captain Sam Cane scored the Chiefs' late try to beat the Crusaders 27-21.
Fullback Damian McKenzie converted his own try nine minutes earlier to give the Chiefs a 22-21 advantage in a match in which the lead changed hands five times. But it took Cane's score from a concerted lineout drive three minutes before fulltime to finally decide a match in which the largest lead enjoyed by either side was six points.
On Super Rugby's arrival in Japan, the visiting Lions dominated the first half with tries by Robbie Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan to take a 12-6 lead at halftime over the Sunwolves. That became 19-6 early in the second half after a try by Jaco Kriel and conversion by Elton Jantjies.
Shota Horie gave the capacity crowd a thrill when he scored the Sunwolves' historic first try an hour in, but hopes of a comeback were soon ended when Lionel Mapoe went over for another score for the Lions six minutes later.
Mark Hammett, a former All Blacks hooker, was introduced as coach of the Sunwolves on Dec. 21 and his team came together just over two weeks ago. They had only one formal trial match before Saturday's game.
''You can always handle losing if you know the players gave everything,'' Hammett said. ''We are very proud of our players given the short time that was involved in getting ready.''
While the Sunwolves showed some promise, fellow newcomers the Kings were outclassed at home by the Durban-based Sharks in their South African derby.
The Kings scored the first try through flanker Chris Cloete at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. But that was a blip and the Sharks responded with six tries and finished with 35 unanswered points, with wing Odwa Ndungane getting their first and last tries.
The Kings, previously relegated from Super Rugby after one season in 2013, are also in turmoil off the field and being run by the South African Rugby Union after their finances collapsed.