SA’s Emirates Lions make winning start to United Rugby Championship campaign

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Emirates Lions make a circle before the startin wistle during the United Rugby Championship match Zebre Rugby Club vs Emirates Lions on September 24, 2021 at the Sergio Lanfranchi stadium in Parma, Italy (Photo by Massimiliano Carnabuci/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

South African rugby franchise the Emirates Lions kicked off their United Rugby Championship (URC) campaign with a 38-26 win against Italian outfit Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lafranchi in Parma, Italy, on Friday.

Burger Odendaal (Lions) carries the ball during the United Rugby Championship match Zebre Rugby Club vs Emirates Lions at the Sergio Lanfranchi stadium in Parma, Italy. /Getty Images

The match was the first ever of the tournament which rebranded from PRO14 after the inclusion of four South African franchises to add to sides from Italy, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

The Lions raced into a commanding 35-0 lead at the break courtesy of five tries from Jamba Ulengo, Burger Odendaal, Rabz Maxwane (2) and Jaco Visagie. Fly-half Jordan Hendrikse successfully kicked all his conversions to seemingly put the Lions out of sight.

Hendrikse extended his side’s lead to 38 points with a penalty shortly after the restart but that would be the visitors’ final points on the board as the Italian side went on to muster a comeback of sorts thereafter.

Fly-half Carlo Canna grabbed the hosts’ first try in the 51st minute and then added a conversion to make it 38-7. Zebre were then awarded a penalty try just five minutes later before Tommaso Boni crossed over for another try which Canna slotted to make it 38-21 with 18 minutes left.

Though Oliviero Fabiani added another try to cut the deficit to 12 points, the Lions would hold to register the tournament’s first-ever win.

Three more South African sides will be in action on Saturday as the DHL Stormers travel to face Benetton, Vodacom Bulls face Irish powerhouse Leinster and the Cell C Sharks tackle another Irish giant Munster.

(Story compiled with assistance from wire reports)

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