Defending champions Northern Bulls and seven-time winners Canterbury Crusaders launched their 2010 Super 14 title bids with opening weekend bonus-point victories.
The Pretoria-based Bulls whipped last season’s bottom team Central Cheetahs 51-34 in a South African derby in Bloemfontein, while the Crusaders had a storming 32-17 win over the Otago Highlanders in Christchurch.
Other weekend winners were South Africa’s Western Stormers, Australian heavyweights ACT Brumbies and NSW Waratahs and last year’s beaten finalists Waikato Chiefs and Wellington Hurricanes, both of New Zealand.
The Cape Town Stormers opened their campaign with a 26-13 away win over the Golden Lions in Johannesburg, while the two-time winners Brumbies downed the Western Force 24-15 in Perth.
The Waratahs sunk fierce interstate rivals Queensland Reds with a converted try in the final minute to snatch a 30-28 win, and Stephen Donald landed a last-kick penalty to snatch a 19-18 victory for the Chiefs over the Coastal Sharks in Durban.
The Hurricanes opened their season with a come-from-behind 34-20 victory over the Blues in Auckland.
After conceding a try within the opening 20 seconds the Bulls began their pursuit of a third title within four years with a six-tries beating of the Cheetahs.
The Cheetahs never stopped trying and deserved a bonus point before their home supporters, but the fourth try eluded the Bloemfontein-based outfit.
Highlanders replacement flyhalf Michael Hobbs lifted his side to within one point of the Crusaders with 12 minutes to play before Canterbury, the most successful franchise in Super rugby history, burst clear with two late tries.
Fullback Joe Pietersen scored 21 points for the Stormers, who led 26-6 at the break and looked set for a comfortable win.
But the inexperienced Lions team came back strongly in the second half sparked by the half-time substitution of former All Blacks fly-half Carlos Spencer.
Springbok stars Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie, both making their first appearance for the Stormers, showed they would add penetration to the team’s backline.
Honours for Mortlock
Former Wallaby skipper Stirling Mortlock became the first player to reach 1 000 Super Rugby points in the Brumbies’ win over the Force.
Mortlock went into the season opener on 996 points and finished with nine points from three conversions and one penalty, as well as setting up the sealing try late in the match.
The Waratahs looked second best for virtually all of an emotional Australian derby in Brisbane, but clinched victory when Wallaby number eight Wycliff Palu plunged over for a try beneath the crossbar.
Replacement back Daniel Halangahu potted the easy conversion on the final siren as the Waratahs claimed their sixth consecutive win over the Reds.
Donald converted a Jackson Willison try two minutes from full-time to give 2009 runners-up Chiefs victory over the Sharks, who finished a man short after hooker Bismarck du Plessis was sin binned.
Auckland Blues’ new signing Stephen Brett was the first-half hero and second-half villain as the Hurricanes finished with the points.
The former Crusaders flyhalf scored one try and made another as the Blues racked up a comfortable 20-12 half-time lead, but his fortunes changed after an intercepted pass presented the Hurricanes with their only try in the turning point of the match. – AFP