Hunches confirmed as Super competition begins
It took just 80 minutes for Super Rugby to confirm a couple of pre-season hunches.
Most New Zealand rugby fans will be more concerned about the knee injury Chiefs openside Sam Cane suffered during a preseason win over the Blues in Rotorua on Friday.
Cane is out for three to four weeks and with Tanerau Latimer still recovering from elbow surgery, Tasman's Tevita Koloamatangi is set to be tossed the No 7 jersey against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday.
But the first real rugby of 2014 has now been played after Super Rugby kicked off with an all-South Africa opening round.
The Lions stole a last gasp 21-20 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, while the Sharks exposed the Bulls with a 31-16 bonus point win in Durban.
It was the second match that held most significance, and not just for the Hurricanes who undoubtedly face a tough firstup task in Durban on Sunday morning.
The Sharks, now coached by Jake White and skippered by hooker Bismarck du Plessis, look every bit a title contender.
After guiding the Brumbies to last year's final, White had the Sharks organised and potent in the season opener as they ran in four tries to the Bulls' one.
White's trademarks were evident in the Sharks first try with multiple bodies in motion allowing blindside wing Lwazi Mvovo to slice through the midfield from a lineout win.
Mvovo fed centre Paul Jordaan for the first try and the Sharks never looked back, first five-eighth Patrick Lambie scoring the bonus-point try in the 83rd minute.
Equally as revealing were a Bulls side that has lost a host of talent to Europe in the off-season.
Morne Steyn's replacement at first five-eighth Louis Fouche seemed obsessed with the drop goal in a sign the Bulls will stick to their conservative ways this season.
The Bulls' 36-year-old lock Victor Matfield returned from the bench after a two-year absence and rallied his side from a 23-9 halftime deficit.
However, with Fouche wasting quality possession, a driving try to Jono Ross and was the Bulls' only try.
A sinbinning of left-wing Bjorn Basson didn't help the Bulls' cause.
The earlier match in Bloemfontein suggests that the Lions will be more competitive this season than the Southern Kings, the team they've replaced, but no more of a chance to win the title.
The Cheetahs showed glimpses of the attacking rugby that made them a crowd favourite in 2013 and have an exciting duo in tryscoring wings Raymond Rhule and Cornal Hendricks.
However, neither side treasured the ball with turnovers proving costly for both before Lions first five-eighth Marnitz Boshoff calmly slotted the winning drop goal in the final minute.
Like the Kings a year ago, it was a win firstup, but first evidence suggests that the Lions will be a nuisance rather than a contender throughout the campaign.
The Dominion Post