CAPE TOWN, SA: With the Super 15 fast approaching, here is a look at the South African conference. No doubt this will be a competitive conference, however many would argue that whilst there should be at least one (most likely two) South African teams in the Super 15 quarter finals, however the trophy is unlikely to head back over the Indian Ocean to the Rainbow Nation.
This is a fearsome team, who might finally deliver on their potential this season. Whilst their pack may not have the mobility of the Sharks, their tight game should be outstanding, with Eben Etzebeth, Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen coming to the fore. The unfortunate loss of Andries Bekker may cause problems for their depth chart, but his Argentine replacement Manuel Carizza should slot right into this physical unit. Expect another great season from breakaway Siya Kolisi as well. The balance in their backs could be the Stormers secret weapon this season. Demetri Catrakilis has moved from the Southern Kings and his kicking game will be crucial in the territorial battle. Jean De Villiers outside of him means they can bash and crash their way over the gain line, and Juan de Jongh and Gio Aplon out wide will give them a means to exploit space and quick ball. If there is one issue it will be a slight lack of depth, however if they can keep their squad fit they will be contenders when finals time comes along.
Much like the Stormers, a serious contender for the 2014 Super 15 title. Jake White at the helm and a mature, settled team could see the Natal outfit make a serious run at the table this year. The Du Plessis’ brothers and Beast Mtawarira, may well be the best front row in the competition. Back that up with Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel and the outstanding young tyro Pieter-Steph du Toit and the Sharks are a fearsome unit up front, not to mention their backline capabilities. The all round talents of Pat Lambie and Frans Steyn will ensure they have a varied game, and the speed in their outside backs (Tonderai Chavhanga, JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo) mean that the Sharks will be able to either sit in the pocket and take territory or run and gun with the best of them. Jake White has a team that is more talented than last year’s Brumbies and look what he did with them?
The surprise package of 2013, the Cheetahs do not have the same stellar line up as some of the other teams in this South African conference, but their stars come in the form of hard nosed forwards such as Adrian Strauss, arch poacher Heinrich Brussouw and tackling machine Lappies Labuschagne (who made the most tackles in Super rugby last season). Their true firepower comes in the form of the electric Willie LeRoux, who has been given licence to roam freely during matches. Expect LeRoux to take on the role of a rugby league fullback, playmaking, running and all things nice. The Cheetahs won’t win the Super title, but another season like last year may start to entice South African talent to the growing Free State powerhouse.
6 Springboks have jumped ship from the Bulls this year foremost amongst them Morne Steyn, Zane Kirchner and Juandre Kruger. Whilst their starting XV will look strong the truth is their depth will be called into question as the season goes on. In the forwards the returning Springbok institution Victor Matfield will bring quality lineout ball for them, along with his mountain of experience. The Hougaard’s in the playmaking roles (Francois – 9, Derek – 10) will bring a nice blend of age and speed and the firepower of young tyros Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht in the centres will also mean they are not short of try scoring potential. And yet still there is a worrying lack of both bench and squad cover. A few, even minor, injuries could derail the Bull Train this season.
This season’s whipping boys unfortunately. The Lions will be courageous and will no doubt cause problems for some teams, but in truth they lack any real firepower. The transition back into Super Rugby will be incredibly hard as they will be fielding most of their Currie Cup team, who had gaping holes in defence last season. The return of Elton Jantjies may provide some solidity and maverick attacking flair, but in truth he is a talent that is unfortunately stuck at a poor side, and as a result his Springbok ambitions may well be hindered. All they can hope for is a solid if not impressive season.
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