South Africa’s Southern Kings made a stunning Super Rugby debut with a 22-10 victory over Australia’s Western Force at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.
Winger Sergeal Petersen, still a schoolboy two months ago, scored a brace of tries, while the boot of flyhalf Demitri Catrakilis added four penalties.
The Port Elizabeth-based side have replaced the Lions in this year’s Super Rugby competition, but were expected to struggle with an inexperienced squad under New Zealand-born coach Matt Sexton.
However, what they lacked in star quality they made up for with a high work-rate and structured defense.
“We knew it was crucial to get a win today to get the public behind us,” Kings center Andries Strauss said. “We must keep our feet on the ground, it is only our first step into this competition. There is still big pressure on us, but I hope we can take the momentum from this win further into the competition.”
Petersen scored his side’s first points in the competition when he showed great anticipation to run in a try. Force winger Alfie Mafi dithered over collecting a charged-down grubber and Petersen nipped the ball from his grasp and ran in unopposed.
The score was against the run of play and the Perth-based side began to flex their muscles. They took the ball through the phases from a scrum in the Kings’ 22 and Pek Cowan scored with a pick-and-go from the base of the ruck.
Six minutes later, the Australians were in again and once more it came from patient buildup play. Mafi completed the try in the corner as they spread the ball wide.
All three tries went unconverted and the Force led 10-5 at the break.
The home side had suffered a blow in the first half when captain Luke Watson was forced off just past the half-hour mark with a throat injury and did not return.
However, if they were second best in the first half, the Kings put in a gutsy display after halftime to score 14 unanswered points.
“We spoke at halftime about keeping the ball better and putting pressure on the Force, and we did that,” Strauss said.
Catrakilis added two penalties to give his side the lead, before Hugh McMeniman received a yellow card for a high tackle on Ronnie Cooke.
With the Force a man down, the lead was extended when Petersen scored his second try on the hour mark. Kings scrumhalf Shaun Venter coughed up the ball over the goal line, but the home side won it back following a Force knock-on and spread the ball wide.
Petersen kept Will Tupou at bay with an excellent hand-off before darting in at the corner.
“It is an incredible start to my Super Rugby career. It gives me great passion and heart to know that I am coming from this region. We are such a unit, playing in this team is a dream,” Petersen said.
The Force were penalized at the scrum twice in quick succession, with Catrakilis slotting both kicks to take the score to 22-10 and out of sight of their visitors.
SHARKS 29, CHEETAHS 22
The Coastal Sharks withstood a brave second-half comeback by the Central Cheetahs to win a Super 15 opening-round clash 29-22 on Saturday.
Sharks, Super Rugby title runners-up to the Waikato Chiefs last season, led by 21 points with 30 minutes to go at a sun-baked Free State Stadium, before the Cheetahs finally came alive in an all-South African showdown.
Tries from flank Pieter “Lappies” Labuschagne and new center Johann Sadie, and two conversions and a penalty from flyhalf Johan Goosen, narrowed the gap to just four points 12 minutes from time.
Many in the 14,500 crowd were dreaming of a Cheetahs victory, only for Sharks flyhalf Patrick Lambie to complete a memorable individual performance with a close-range penalty that closed the scoring.
However, all the Bloemfontein team had to show at the final whistle was a bonus point for losing by fewer than eight points — not the ideal start with an Australasian tour starting next weekend against the Waikato Chiefs.