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All eyes on Super Rugby

International Sports

All eyes on Super RugbyAll eyes on Super RugbyThe Lions' quest to be the same, but different, has begun in satisfactory fashion.

Again standard bearers for South Africa's Super Rugby title claims, the 2017 runners-up beat the Sharks 26-19 at home on Sunday (NZ time).

New Zealand's TAB have the Lions at a very short $6 - behind just the Crusaders and Hurricanes - to win the competition and a double to centre Lionel Mapoe, plus a fine individual try from left wing Aphiew Dyantyi, helped them begin the campaign with a win. The Crusaders are at odds of $4 and Hurricanes $4.50, if you're curious.

Not having a New Zealand side on their schedule was a big help to the Lions' 2017 season. This time around they play all but the Chiefs, as part of a draw that should still give them early momentum.

They had to work hard to hold off the Sharks on Sunday, but ought to now bank enough points to ensure a playoff berth.

Between now and their first bye, home games against the Jaguares, Blues, Sunwolves, Crusaders and Stormers are interrupted only by a short trip to Pretoria to meet the Bulls and another to play the return match against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. By then, the Lions could be well on the way to topping the South Africa conference.

Much will depend on how consistent the performances from first five-eighth Elton Jantjies are. But the pack, led by hooker Malcolm Marx and No.8 and captain Warren Whiteley, are useful.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel, but we know we can't stay the same," Whiteley said.

"We can't be the same team as last year if we want to keep improving in this competition, because the competition keeps evolving and other teams keep improving. We have to be in search of that extra one per cent."
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Whiteley was proud of the Lions' resilience against the Sharks, particularly in the dying stages when a series of lineout drives were repelled.

South Africa's second-best franchise has tended to be the Stormers, in recent times, and they too had to show a bit of resolve on Sunday. Up 22-6 early in the second half, the hosts hung on to win 28-20 at Newlands.

The Jaguares' scrum wasn't a consistent weapon last season, but got better the longer this game went on and almost paved the way for an upset. A scrum-generated penalty try saw the Jaguares close to just 25-20, with Stormers hooker Ramone Samuels in the sinbin for a professional foul.

But a late Damian Willemse eventually settled the issue.

The New Zealand and Australia conferences now join the fray, starting with Friday's clash between the Highlanders and Blues in Dunedin. The Crusaders then host the Chiefs on Saturday night, before the remaining New Zealand side - the Hurricanes - plays the Bulls on Sunday morning (NZT).


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