Super Hero Sunday to provide early gauge after Rugby World Cup 2019 success

Springbok caption Siya Kolisi raises the Webb Ellis Cup after their 2019 Rugby World Cup Final victory over England at International Stadium Yokohama on 2 November. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)
By Craig Ray
16 Jan 2020 0

South African rugby players and fans have had 10 weeks to enjoy Rugby World Cup 2019 triumph, but this weekend sees the 2020 season come into focus. Will it reveal a World Cup hangover or the start of a new, successful Super Rugby era?

The memory of Makazole Mapimpi’s beautiful try as the Boks crushed England 32-12 in the final of RWC 2019 will never become old or stale. Watching it for the 79th time is as much fun as seeing it for the first time on that glorious Yokohama day on November 1, 2019.

It’s the same for Cheslin Kolbe’s jaw-dropping step on his way to the team’s second try and Siya Kolisi’s historic moment when he raised the Webb Ellis Cup. Those are images and, more important, memories that must be clung on to and recalled often.

As much as those memories bring joy to fans and inspiration to the entire country, for the 160-odd players that will represent the four South African franchises in Super Rugby in 2020, it must be a bar that needs to be reached at all times.

For the 16 members of the RWC 2019 Springbok squad that will play in Super Rugby in the coming months, the deserved pride and joy they felt in Japan mustn’t be a finishing point but a starting line. South African rugby and South Africa needs sport, and rugby, to continue to provide hope. And next on the agenda is Super Rugby, which has become synonymous with under-achievement over the past nine years.

No South African side has won the title since the Bulls in 2010 and South African teams have increasingly struggled against overseas opposition.

Since 2011, South African teams have played 400 Super Rugby matches against teams from New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Japan and won only 192 of them – or 48%. The Boks’ RWC 2019 success could hopefully see a mental turnaround by South African teams in the coming decade.

In the 2010 Super Rugby final the Bulls beat the Stormers in a historic meeting at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto, which is only a few long touch finders away from the FNB Stadium, venue for Super Hero Sunday.

Although Super Hero Sunday, with teams dressed in kits that are replicas of Marvel comic figures, is essentially a marketing event, it also marks the first proper pre-season skirmishes for the tournament which kicks off on January 31, 2020. Sunday will be a massive gauge to for the four coaches to measure their pre-season progress and their future prospects.

Stormers captain Siya Kolisi believes that it’s not only RWC success that should boost all local Super Rugby franchises, but the Boks’ recent success in New Zealand. Kolisi’s team won and drew against the All Blacks in Wellington over the past two seasons.

At Test and Super Rugby level, winning in New Zealand and against New Zealand teams, remains the gold standard.

“All these games are about mentality,” Kolisi said from the Stormers’ training base in Bellville this week.

“You want to go there and say you’re going to win all the games, I think that should be the attitude. Us winning that game in Wellington gave us that mentality. When we go on tour, we want to win every game. We don’t want to aim for this one or that one.

“In most of the teams I’ve played for in the past, you already lose before you get off the plane because you’re choosing which games you’re going to win.”

Despite the mix-and-match nature of the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers’ teams for this Sunday’s games, their approaches and the attitude will give a glimpse of what is to come in 2020.

Of the four franchises, three – the Lions, Sharks and Stormers – go into Super Rugby 2020 with new head coaches, new goals and new hope in the final year of a bloated 15 team format before it sheds Japan’s Sunwolves from its quota in 2021 and returns to a 14-team competition.

The veteran Pote Human will steer the Bulls for another season after taking on the job at short notice after John Mitchell left for England at the end of 2018.

However, 2020 is the first season for head coaches Sean Everitt (Sharks), Ivan van Rooyen (Lions) and John Dobson (Stormers). They all coached in the Currie Cup and have experience as assistant coaches at this level.

Dobson perhaps has the most to lose as he has an armada of World Cup-winning Boks in his squad. Kolisi, props Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, flank Pieter-Steph du Toit, scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies and flyhalf Damian Willemse were all in Japan and will represent the Stormers in 2020.

It’s also the last season at Newlands for the team before a move to the modern Cape Town Stadium in 2021, which will add to the pressure. Hosting a Super Rugby final in 2020 would be a perfect Newlands farewell.

Kolisi, who has become a global superstar after the Boks’ heroics in Japan, has decided to stay on and play his rugby in Cape Town for several more seasons. He could have secured more lucrative deals overseas, but he feels that there is unfinished business in South Africa.

“I believe that there is so much to do here in South African rugby and so much I can add value to by playing here,” Kolisi said.

“I can’t make the changes I want to see in my community by being elsewhere. I believe in this union so much and I would love to win a title with the Stormers. I’ve been here for nine years now and I’ve never won a single thing.

“I’ve stayed here because I know what Dobbo’s (Dobson’s) plans are and Rassie’s (Springbok coach, Erasmus) plans are.

“My main focus now is to make sure I give everything I can to Dobbo now so I can get picked every week. Hopefully, it inspires the next generation to understand that you’ve got to do the hard yards (for success).”

The Stormers and Sharks clash on Sunday while the Bulls take on the Lions in front of what is expected to be a massive crowd in the 90,000-seater stadium.

The results of the matches are obviously not vital. The success of the outing will be measured by the coaches and the medical staff in terms of whether the players met their technical and physical measurements.

What the games will provide though, is a much higher intensity compared to what they could replicate in training.

“There are no ‘friendly’ games in rugby, just no log points,” Everitt said this week.

“Intensity is something that we’ve worked on. We want a high work rate and a lot of energy, and that’s what we want the crowds to judge us on.

“I think it will be an unforgiving game.

“The Springboks returned to training late in December and they haven’t done any contact work. We’ve kept them out of that due to their workloads earlier in 2019. We’ve eased them back in.

“We’ve been working hard with them over the last couple of weeks, so they should be game ready. The players that you will see on Sunday are the players that will be taking part in Super Rugby 2020, so it’s a big day for everyone.”

It’s not only a big day, but a chance to lay a big marker for the 2020 season and beyond. DM


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