Usual suspects shine for Sharks and Lions
Gavin Rich
February 03, 2019

Replacement wing Sylvian Mahuza showed his pace after pouncing on a Cell C Sharks mistake to clinch the Emirates Lions a hard fought 19-14 win in the opening game of SuperHero Sunday at Cape Town Stadium.

The match was the first in a double header that will feature the Stormers against the Bulls later in the day and was played in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd. This is one day where you can't say all Capetonians are Stormers, or all people present are Stormers fans, for the colours of all teams are being displayed enthusiastically by fans both inside the stadium and on the concourses and the fan-walk leading to the stadium.

In a game which was dominated by two strong defensive systems, it was very much a rewind to recent seasons when it came to the stand-out players, with the Lions (playing as Spiderman) relying on their usual suspects to get them what should be regarded as a morale boosting win ahead of the new season.

The Sharks attacked strongly late in the game and were on several occasions within touching distance of scoring and escaping with the win, but the Lions defence, often questioned last year, stood strong. Both teams showed impressive line-speed and generally the tries that were scored came about either through pouncing on opposition handling mistakes, as was the case with the winning try and also the first one for the Sharks, or strong forward driving near the line.

In the latter case there were tries from two players you can definitely class as usual suspects when it comes to being in the vanguard for their team - the Lions hooker Malcolm Marx and the Sharks’ angry warthog, Akker van der Merwe, who came on as a replacement in the second half and scored with almost his first touch of the ball.

The scores were locked at 7-all after the first half, though it was the Lions who looked the dominant team to that point and they will feel they go the most out of the game overall.

There are understandable fears that the Lions, having lost some players since last year, might struggle to retain the hold they have had in the past few seasons on the South African conference in Super Rugby. That is particularly because they’ve lost some serious beef in the pack.

However, this match reminded those who are preparing to sing the Lions’ epitaph that although they will miss the ultra hard working Franco Mostert, they still have the services of two of the star players in the pack from the past few seasons - Marx and Warren Whiteley.

Skipper Whiteley, who must be relishing the prospect of what hopefully will be a full Super Rugby season after the past few have been truncated by injury, was his impressive self off the back of the scrum, and with Kwagga Smith, who switched to No 8 later in the game, working with him in the loose trio, it was a stand out area for the Johannesburg team.

But no man is more influential on the Lions’ fortunes than Springbok hooker Marx. The big front-row forward was prominent in the tight-loose, and was also part of a scrum that enjoyed much the better of their battle with the Sharks eight in the set-pieces.

Of course the Sharks weren’t at full-strength, and neither were the Lions, but the performance of the Lions’ big men should have been enough to allay at least some of the fears that, as Western Province coach John Dobson put it in the last Currie Cup season, their DNA has changed from being forward based to more backline orientated. That may have been the case in the domestic competition but their Super Rugby pack, with the Boks back, still has a lot going for it.

That’s not to say the backs aren’t useful too, and apart from Mahuza showing his paces, there were the deft little touches that we expect from Elton Jantjies, such as the little grubber after a good Whiteley pass that put Courtnall Skosan, another Lions Bok looking forward to what he hopes will be a good season after missing much of the last one, in for the second Lions try.

For the Sharks there was the pace of Makazole Mapimpi on show when he crossed for his team’s first try, the first of the game, after 25 minutes. The score was the result of an intercept when the Lions broke down in attempting to run the ball out of their own half. Inside him, Springbok centre Lukhanyo Am showed the silky touches that might have been missed in his absence from the second half of the Boks’ 2018 international season.

The Sharks showed glimpses of improved attacking shape at times and did spend a lot of the second half camped in Lions territory. They were pressing hard for the try when they trailed by five points going into the last 10 minutes, and impressive young newcomers JJ van der Mescht and Phendulani Buthelezi would have gained a lot from the experience of coming on to be part of a tight finish to a game played in front of a such a large crowd. Both players are recent products of the Sharks’ age-group teams.


Emirates Lions (Spiderman) 19 - Tries: Malcolm Marx, Courtnall Skosan and Sylvian Mahuza; Conversions: Elton Jantjies 2.

Cell C Sharks (Blank Panther) 14 - Tries: Makazole Mapimpi, Akker van der Merwe; Conversions: Curwin Bosch 2.

The Castle Lager Rugby Championship
Saturday, July 20 2019
17:05 - South Africa vs Australia
Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Saturday, July 27 2019
09:35 - New Zealand vs South Africa
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday, August 10 2019
00:00 - Argentina vs South Africa
Castle Lager Incoming Series
Saturday, August 17 2019
17:05 - South Africa vs Argentina
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
RWC Warm-up game
Friday, September 06 2019
00:00 - Japan vs South Africa
Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Saitama
Rugby World Cup
Saturday, September 21 2019
11:45 - South Africa vs New Zealand
International Stadium, Yokohama
Saturday, September 28 2019
11:45 - South Africa vs Namibia
City of Toyota Stadium
Friday, October 04 2019
11:45 - South Africa vs Italy
Shizuoka Stadium
Tuesday, October 08 2019
12:15 - South Africa vs Canada
Kobe Misaki Stadium

Copyright - SA Rugby. All Rights Reserved - Photos by Gallo Images