SA’s Super long shots
Local rugby teams are up against the odds, but they may yet capture our hearts
The mood is sombre in our rugby: there’s trouble among our administrators, no Springbok coach yet, rugby in the Eastern Cape is on the brink of collapse and then there are the New Zealanders...
Maybe it’s just the right background for a South African team to seize the country’s imagination in the Super Rugby competition.
(I swear I heard someone roaring with laughter.)
But it is not so far-fetched. There’s room for three teams from the two Africa conferences in the quarterfinals. The Jaguares from Argentina were the favourites – they are almost a test team – but they ran into a lot of trouble at Newlands last weekend.
The Stormers were South Africa’s leading team last year, but collapsed dismally in their first knockout match ... but they still have a formidable pack of forwards and fast backs.
The biggest problem is that, once again, there is little experience among the halfbacks, which is almost a nationwide problem.
Due to injuries, the Bulls have to do without Handré Pollard and the Sharks without Pat Lambie.
So the table is set for the Lions’ Elton Jantjies. He has never completely fulfilled his promise, but took a big step in that direction last season and was unlucky to be overlooked for the World Cup squad.
Jantjies is a player with the right instincts and who does not fear the advantage line; in addition, in Johan Ackermann he has one of the few South African coaches who can trust his players’ decision making. The Lions, Currie Cup champions and a thoroughly polished unit, are the most balanced South African team.
They are, however, with the Sharks, the Jaguares and Kings, in the toughest Africa conference.
Not only are the Argentinians clearly more difficult opponents than the Japanese Sunwolves, this conference will also play against the strong New Zealand group. Probably, only one team from this group will advance to the knockouts.
The Bulls, the Stormers and the Cheetahs play a double round between themselves and single rounds against another African conference and Australia – making it easier to collect league points.
Pollard’s loss will be hard to bear, but Rudy Paige is a quick decision maker at scrum half and can bring relief for the Bulls.
Their match at Newlands on Saturday will set the tone for both teams.
The Stormers’ pack is, on paper, one of the best in the tournament, but Damian de Allende’s injury will deprive the backs of much dynamite.
The Sharks’ preseason tour to France would have given fans much to cheer about. Though you can’t read too much into these games, away victories over Toulon and Toulouse are not to be sneezed at.
The Cheetahs have caused shocks in this tournament and can certainly do so again, but they and the Kings look too green to upset many cards.
With Super Rugby you never can tell. A few injuries, a few rotten referees, and you’re out. However, with the right momentum at the right time, you can go all the way.
11th The Sharks should do better than last season, but will still struggle to make the play-offs.
Cheetahs Coach: Captain: Star player: Players in:
Franco Smith Francois Venter Lood de Jager Aranos Coetzee, Neil Rautenbach, Uzair Cassiem, Tier Schoeman, Sias Ebersohn, Fred Zeilinga, William Small-Smith
Martin Bezuidenhout, Coenie Oosthuizen, Caylib Oosthuizen, Steven Sykes, Carel Greeff, Heinrich Brüssow, Jean Cook, Sarel Pretorius, Francois Brummer, Willie du Plessis, Joe Pietersen, Elgar Watts, Johann Sadie, Cornal Hendricks, Willie le Roux
12th Can provide several surprises in the group phase and a place among the top 10 is a realistic expectation.
Last season: Prediction: Kings Coach: Captain: Star player: Players in: Players out: Last season: Prediction:
Deon Davids Steven Sykes (probably)
Shane Gates A new team – last played Super Rugby two years ago Lost several players due to the union’s financial problems Didn’t play Could possibly cause an upset or two early in the season, but will have to show exceptional form to avoid the wooden spoon.