On Sunday we looked (humbly, of course) at the Pinnacle: now it’s time for Real SupeRugby, with Deebee’s review of the South African Conference.
SupeRugby 2019 SA Conference Preview
Saffer Super Sides Slip ‘n Slide to Stagnation!
Every year we hear about exciting new talent, searing pace out wide, grunt up front, stepping up to the plate, swinging for glory, playing for the team, unity of purpose and closing the gap on the Kiwis. Indeed, if throwaway clichés won titles, we’d have loads of them. Instead SA sides tend to just throw away the ball. When they’re not kicking it away.
Sharks Swim ‘n Swagger to Super Semi Showdown
The Sharks have Boks galore throughout the side and have lost little of their frontline firepower in recent years. All-Bok front row and replacements, as well as the abrasive brothers Du Preez in the back row, with Ruan Botha and Bulls recruit Reuben van Heerden in the 2nd row gives the pack a very, very solid look. Behind them, the Sharks can mix it up at 9 and 10 with either Louis Schreduer or Cameron Wright reffing and Robert du Preez bashing from flat or Curwin Bosch providing a silkier approach to unlocking a backline that has size, solidity and some pace. The Sharks menaced the Kiwi sides last year, but lost what looked like easier matches at home – can they be more solid this year?
The schedule looks good, with an away fixture in Japan followed by eight matches in South Africa (including away derbies) as a buffer before serious tests on the road against the ‘Tahs, Crusaders and Chiefs should provide the Sharks with the platform they need to top the SA Conference.
Positives: Abrasive pack, strong backs, can beat Kiwi sides, Currie Cup winners last year.
Negatives: Tend to lose matches they shouldn’t, style can be limited and countered by equally physical sides.
Players to Watch: Ruben van Heerden (2nd row), Aphelele Fassi (wing who hauled in Aphiwe Dyantyi with ease last year) and Makazole Mapimpi (wing)
Position in Conference: 1st – and possible finalists, with a favourable KO draw.
Lions to Lambs as the £ Pounds Player Resources
Seven Boks and two fringe Boks lost over the last two seasons has left a feeling of a lack of depth in Johannesburg. Seven from the pack that bossed most during that time will definitely tell in the long and gruelling season, despite the team still boasting nine Boks overall and several tipped to join those ranks in the future. A tough start away to the Jaguares (never won there) and the Stormers could see the Lions playing catch-up from the get-go. Facing four Kiwi sides—only spared the Blues—complicates matters further for a side unlikely to field a strong bench or reserves when injuries start to tell.
The Lions have a callow front row other than Malcom Marx, a decent second row with Stephen Lewies moving from the Sharks and an abundance of loose forwards mixing guile with power. Jantjies thrives at this level and has some serious gas and options available outside him, which should see the Lions continue with their brand of risky run it from anywhere rugby.
Positives: Pacy, ball in hand back rowers to complement the firepower out wide.
Negatives: Lack of depth in the front five could see the Lions struggle for decent ball.
Players to Watch: Wandisile Simelane (outside centre) and Hacjivah Dayimani (back row)
Position in Conference: 2nd or 3rd behind the Sharks and possibly Los Jaguares.
Jaguares Claw into Contention?
A coaching merry-go-round continues with new backroom staff to try to lift the Jaguares into the top echelon. In addition, they’ve lost key playmaker Nicolás Sánchez to the Euro and Juan Martín Hernández to retirement. 2018 saw the Jags winning four from four on the road to Australasia and picking up good wins over Saffer sides at home. But they remain, for the most part, bad travellers and in a World Cup year rotation may well be their undoing. They’ve lost their scrummaging dominance but have added some sublime skills in the three-quarters. The biggest problem for the Jags though, has been their discipline, with yellow and red confetti undoing much of their other good work.
A decent schedule, with three at home followed by a two-week trip to SA could be just the start the Jaguares need, but they will, once again, travel more than any other side, making rotation key before the RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP and world cup.
Positives: Continuity, a good season in 2018, travelled fairly well.
Negatives: Loss of Sanchez, lack of depth in some positions.
Players to Watch: Augustin Creevy (needs to step up this year – again) and Tomás Lavanini (curbing his temper would be a major bonus).
Position in Conference: 2nd or 3rd, duking it out with Lions .
Beefy Bulls Back to Basics, no Instinct
The Bulls have added the muscle of Duane Vermeulen and the brain of Schalk Britz to their already abrasive pack led by Lood de Jager, RG Snyman (currently injured) and emerging Pretoria favourites, Marco van Staden and Muller Uys (both backrows). They have solid units in the front row, although have struggled to dominate like the Bulls of old. They do have good depth in the forwards though, which should see them putting out competitive packs all season.
Behind the forwards it’s a very contrasting view, with three Bok 7s stars joining a Bok-laden back division, albeit one that struggled to click consistently in 2018. Embrose Papier will surely be given the chance to shine in a World Cup year, whilst every Saffer will hope Handre Pollard stays fit and focused at 10. Jesse Kriel was good in 2018, and the addition of Stedman Gans, Dylan Sage and Rosko Specman from the 7s side, with the return of Warrick Gelant at 15, could give them the spark so missed in recent years.
The Bulls do have a potentially tricky start, with perennial enemies the Stormers first up, then Argentina, Ellis Park and the Sharks in month one. More than two losses and their season is done.
Positives: Strong pack, lots of experience, lots of leadership, potentially explosive and elusive backs with 7s recruits.
Negatives: Packs can be ponderous, one-dimensional; backs may take time to gel in attack and defence.
Players to Watch: Muller Uys (loose forward) and returning fullback Warrick Gelant.
Position in Conference: 3rd or 4th, probably the latter.
Stormers Will Whistle in the Wind Once More
On paper, the strongest SA side—Boks throughout and oozing talent, power, abrasiveness and nous. The same was said in 2018. And possibly 2017. With Kitshoff, Malherbe, Louw, Etzebeth, Schickerling, Kolisi, du Toit, Wiese and van Zyl, this Stormers side should be able to dominate most other packs. Add to that the likes of Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel (from 7s) Damian Willemse and emerging Junior Bok Edwill van der Merwe in the backs, and you have a potentially excellent and exciting back division. However, the Stormers have struggled to find a dominant 9-10 axis in recent seasons and haven’t seemingly made progress here, with several talented players not making the grade at this level.
The biggest issues for the Stormers though, would appear to be off the field. Retaining Robbie Fleck as coach, despite no track record to speak of, combined with financial insecurity, boardroom upheaval and allegations of racism in the coaching set-up could well derail this most fragile of sides.
Positives: Boks aplenty, especially in the pack, good depth in most positions.
Negatives: 9-10 axis still looks a weak point, unless Damian Willemse gets an extended run and takes it; politics and boardroom wrangling.
Players to Watch: Lee-Marvin Mazibuko (for the name alone!), Chris van Zyl (lock) and Edwill van der Merwe (wing).
Position in Conference: 5th, and probably providing the bulk of the Bok squad. Sigh.
Many thanks to Deebee for the forensic dissection of South African SupeRugby hopes. Ever the secret optimist, Deebee is privately looking forward to a different SA team getting tonked in the final this year.
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