SA teams make strong Super 14 start

South Africa’s World Cup winner Bryan Habana picked up where he left off last season to help the Bulls make a successful start to the defence of their Super 14 title.

Habana, who was named as the IRB’s world player of the year after a magical season in 2007, continued his fairytale run of form by scoring the only try in the Bulls’ 16-9 win over the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday.

The flying winger, who also scored the winning try in last year’s Super 14 final, dived over four minutes before the break but hurt his arm and did not return in the second half.

Last year’s beaten finalists, the Sharks, also got off to a winning start with a 17-10 win over Australia’s Western Force in Durban on Friday.

Fullback Stefan Terblanche, who was called into the team when French flyhalf Frederic Michalak withdrew with a calf injury, scored the winning try midway through the second half.

South Africa recorded a third win during the opening round when the Lions pipped the Cheetahs 23-22 at Bloemfontein on Saturday, flyhalf Earl Rose landing two late kicks to decide the match.

New Zealand and Australian teams won two matches each over the first weekend, which was played under a range of experimental rules which made the games fast and exciting but did not produce the feast of tries expected.

Canterbury and Auckland, the most successful teams in the tournament’s history with nine titles between them, both collected bonus points after racking up easy wins while New South Wales and Queensland started off on the right foot after finishing at the bottom of the standings in 2007.

New Zealand’s Canterbury Crusaders ran in four unanswered tries on a wet and cold Friday night in Christchurch to hammer Australia’s ACT Brumbies 34-3.

Superb Carter

Flyhalf Dan Carter, playing his first serious match since the All Blacks were knocked out of the World Cup quarterfinals, rebounded from last season’s dip in form to put in a brilliant all-round display, scoring a try and kicking four conversions and two penalties for a personal haul of 19 points.

”The conditions made it a little bit tricky but I thought we adapted well. Four tries, we’re pretty happy with it,” Canterbury captain Richie McCaw said in a televised interview.

Auckland Blues scored three second-half tries to beat their New Zealand rivals Waikato Chiefs 32-14 at Eden Park on Friday.

Lock Troy Flavell, winger Joe Rokocoko and replacement Ben Atiga took advantage of the tiring Waikato defence to cross the line after the Chiefs had led 11-8 at the interval.

”I was really pleased with the guys in the second half,” captain Flavell said.

”We were a bit tighter and able to execute our game plan a bit more. It was a good hit-out for us.”

Exciting young fullback Lachlan Turner scored two tries to lead New South Wales Waratahs to a convincing 20-3 victory over New Zealand’s Wellington Hurricanes in Sydney. Loose forward Rocky Elsom also crossed while former rugby league international Timana Tahu made an impressive debut after switching codes this season.

”We knew last season wasn’t too good so it’s a good start for us,” Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie said.

Last year’s wooden spooners, Queensland Reds, were awarded two disputed tries then survived a late fightback from New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders to win 22-16 at Brisbane on Friday.

Queensland outscored Otago three tries to one but there were doubts about two of their touchdowns scored off rucks however they were given the benefit of the doubt by South African referee Marius Jonker. – Reuters

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