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Inexperienced SA Super Rugby teams under pressure in 2020

By Craig Ray and Yanga Sibembe 31 January 2020

Who can stop the Crusaders in Super Rugby 2020 as they go for a fourth consecutive title and 11th overall? South Africa's four teams go into the tournament with high expectations following the Springboks' RWC 2019 win. In the photo, Sevuloni Reece of the Crusaders (L) chips the ball as he is chased by JJ Engelbrecht of the Stormers (R) during the Super Rugby match between the Crusaders of New Zealand and the Stormers of South Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, 18 May 2019. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

As always, Super Rugby is a mouth-watering prospect for rugby fans globally, but for South Africans, it is difficult to see it being anything more than another year of ifs and buts.

In a post-World Cup year, SA Super Rugby franchises always suffer massive player departures as the lure of pounds, euros and yen makes it impossible to keep the best talent at home. This season is no exception as South Africa’s four Super Rugby franchises – the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers – go into the tournament high on hope but short on experience and depth.

New Zealand’s Crusaders are on course for an 11th title and it is unlikely that a team from South Africa has the sustained quality to stop them over the six-month-long campaign.

The Bulls are the only South African team to have a coach who has led at this level before – Pote Human. The other three teams are all under first-year rookies trying to make their mark.

Despite the Springboks’ success in winning Rugby World Cup 2019, the reality is that only 16 of the 33 players used in Japan last year will be involved in Super Rugby, underlining the player brain drain.

The converse to that situation is that 2020 presents the coaches and many young players opportunities to become household names and future stars.

As always, Super Rugby is a mouth-watering prospect for rugby fans globally, but for South Africans, it is difficult to see it being anything more than another year of ifs and buts.

 South African franchises:

Morne Steyn of the Bulls during the 2020 SuperHero Sunday match between the Lions and the Bulls at FNB Stadium, Johannesburg, on 19 January 2020 (Photo: BackpagePix / Samuel Shivambu)

Team: Bulls

Coach: Pote Human

Captain: Burger Odendaal

Key players gained: Morne Steyn, Juandre Kruger, Josh Strauss, Abongile Nonkontwana, Jeandré Rudolph, Andries Ferreira

Key players lost: Handre Pollard, Hanro Liebenberg, Jesse Kriel, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Brits, Travis Ismael, Andre Warner, Thembelani Bholi, Roelof Smit

Position in 2019: Second in South African conference, fifth overall

Best-ever result: Winners (2007, 2009, 2010)

Season overview:

The three-time champions ended the 2019 campaign of Super Rugby as South Africa’s top finisher, finishing fifth as the SA franchises all had largely forgettable campaigns.

They have since been hit by an exodus as some of the best players and leaders in the team have left for greener pastures. This includes the reliable boot of Handre Pollard and the bullish strength of Lood de Jager.

Having said that, they still possess some potent weapons in the arsenal. The ever-reliable boot of serial winner Morne Steyn is back in Pretoria for the first since departing in 2013.

Although the captaincy has been handed to Burger Odendaal, Steyn, with his wealth of experience will be one of the leaders in the team. Two of the 2019 Rugby World Cup winners, fullback Warrick Gelant and prop Trevor Nyakane will also be key to the success of the team.

Unlike the other South African franchises, the Bulls have the luxury of some continuity in terms of head coaches. They retained Pote Human, who was their head coach last season. Over and above this, Human is an old boy at the team, having been assistant coach when the Bulls won the competition in 2007.

The Bulls kick off their campaign against SA rivals the Sharks, and they will be confident of hitting the ground running with the fixture. They have secured eight wins and a draw in their last nine matches against the Durban outfit.

After the trip to Durban, they will travel to Cape Town to take on the Stormers, in what should be another tough battle away from home. The good news for the Pretoria side is that they have managed to avoid the 2019 champions, the Crusaders, in the roster; the New Zealanders trounced them 45-13 on home soil last year.

Human’s team will be hoping to bring back the glory days and win their fourth title, and their first in 10 years but that scenario remains highly unlikely.

Squad:

Simphiwe Matanzima, Gerhard Steenekamp, Lizo Gqoboka, Trevor Nyakane, Wiehahn Herbst, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Corniel Els, Jaco Visagie, Louis van der Westhuizen, Johan Grobbelaar, Juandre Kruger, Ruan Nortje, Andries Ferreira, Ian Groenewald, Tim Agaba, Ruan Steenkamp, Muller Uys, Marco van Staden, Abongile Nonkontwana, Josh Strauss, Wian Vosloo, Jeandre Rudolph, Ryno Pieterse, Embrose Papier, Ivan van Zyl, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Manie Libbok, Morne Steyn, Chris Smith, Burger Odendaal, Dylan Sage, Johnny Kotze, Nafi Tuitavake, Franco Naude, Marnus Potgieter, Rosko Specman, Cornal Hendricks, Jade Stighling, Warrick Gelant, Divan Rossouw, Richard Kriel.

Elton Jantjies from the Lions kicks a penalty during their Super Rugby match against the Stormers in Cape Town, South Africa, 26 May 2018. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

Team: Lions

Coach: Ivan van Rooyen

Captain: Elton Jantjies

Key players gained: Dan Kriel, Carlu Sadie, Tiaan Swanepoel, Jamba Ulengo, Jannie du Plessis, Andre Warner, Roelof Smit

Key players lost: Warren Whiteley, Sylvian Mahuza, Nic Groom, Danie Mienie, Robert Kruger, Franco Naude, Malcolm Marx, Robbie Coetzee, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Ruan Combrinck, Stephan Lewies, Kwagga Smith, Madosh Tambwe,

Position in 2019: Fourth in SA conference, ninth overall

Best-ever result: Runners-up in 2016, 2017, 2018

Season overview:

Despite losing some crucial cogs in their machine, the Lions managed to hold on to one of their most experienced and key players, Elton Jantjies. The Springbok flyhalf said at the launch of Super Rugby 2020 that he stayed because he felt he has unfinished business with the Joburg side. They handed him the captain’s armband as a reward for his loyalty.

The Lions themselves will feel that they have unfinished business in Super Rugby, having finished runners-up three years on the trot between 2016 and 2018. They will hope that 2020 is the year where they finally go all the way, and have recruited the young and dynamic Ivan van Rooyen to attempt to lead them to glory.

The 37-year-old Van Rooyen has risen through the ranks during 10 years at the Lions, starting as coach of age-limit teams and working as the conditioning coach before assisting previous coach Swys de Bruin.

Along with their young coach, the team has some exciting, young prospects. Players such as Hacjivah Dayimani, Vincent Tshituka, Tyrone Green and Mannie Rass.

They will have to do without Cyle Brink, their powerhouse loose forward, who sustained a serious injury that will, in all likelihood, keep him out of the first part of Super Rugby. Another notable absentee is wing Aphiwe Dyantyi, who will twiddle his thumbs from the sidelines due to an alleged doping violation.

A major plus for the Highveld side is that they will play their last nine matches in South Africa, which could be crucial for sneaking into the playoffs.

Squad:  

Jannie du Plessis, Johannes Jonker, Nathan McBeth, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Carlu Sadie, Sti Sithole, Dylan Smith, Frans van Wyk, Jan-Henning Campher, Pieter Jansen, Marko Jansen van Rensburg, Marvin Orie, Rhyno Herbst, Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruben Schoeman, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Ruan Vermaak. Cyle Brink, Hacjivah Dayimani, Len Massyn, Marnus Schoeman, Roelof Smit, Vincent Tshituka, Ross Cronje, Dillon Smit, Andre Warner, Elton Jantjies, Gianni Lombard, James Mollentze, Shaun Reynolds, Tiaan Swanepoel, Dan Kriel, Duncan Matthews, Wandisile Simelane, Louritz van der Schyff, Mannie Rass, Stean Pienaar, Courtnall Skosan, Jamba Ulengo, Andries Coetzee, Tyrone Green.

Lukhanyo Am of the Sharks is tackled by Damian de Allende of the Stormers during the 2019 Super Rugby game between the Stormers and the Sharks at Newlands Rugby Stadium, Cape Town on 15 June 2019. (Photo: Ryan Wilkisky / BackpagePix)

Team: Sharks

Coach: Sean Everitt

Captain: Lukhanyo Am

Key players gained: Ox Nche, Michael Kumbirai, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, James Venter, Madosh Tambwe, JP Pietersen, Jordan Chait.

Key players lost: Tendai Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Akker van der Merwe, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Ruan Botha, Jean-Luc du Preez, Dan du Preez, Robert du Preez, Kobus van Wyk.

Position in 2019: Sixth overall, second in SA conference.

Best-ever result: Runners-up in 1996, 2001, 2007, 2012,

Season overview:

Another South African franchise with a new coach in Sean Everitt and another on paper that appears to have a good chance of doing well.

Despite saying goodbye to some quality players such as Tendai Mtawarira, Jean-Luc du Preez and Akker van der Merwe since last season, there is a healthy smattering of quality in the Sharks team.

But, like most other South African teams in the tournament, it’s the depth of experience and high-quality players that could hurt the Sharks as injuries eventually and inevitably mount up.

Everitt is untested at this level and while he has a backline that could cause some real problems for opposing defences, his pack is youthful and light in key areas. There is a dearth of world-class locks and loose forwards, while the hooker situation is also a worry.

In these austere times, Everitt has been able to make only a smattering of high-profile signings and much of his squad has come through the Sharks’ youth systems.

If the pack can give the backline a fighting chance then the Sharks could be one of the surprise packages of the campaign, especially as under Everitt they appear to be moving away from a collision-based game that has marked their play for the past five seasons.

Super Rugby though, is a tough learning ground and given the lack of experience in the pack, the Sharks are unlikely to make a push for the title and a wild-card play-off berth is likely to be their limit.

Squad:

Andisa Ntsila, Celimpilo Gumede, Craig Burden, Dylan Richardson, Emile van Heerden, Evan Roos, Fezokuhle Mbatha, Henco Venter, Hyron Andrews, James Venter, JJ van der Mescht, John-Hubert Meyer, Jordan Sesink-Clee, Juan Schoeman, Kerron van Vuuren, Khutha Mchunu, Le Roux Roets, Lubabalo (Tera) Mtembu, Michael Kumbirai, Mzamo Majola, Ox Nche, Phepsi Buthelezi, Ruben van Heerden, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Thomas du Toit, Tyler Paul, Andre Esterhuizen, Aphelele Fassi, Cameron Wright, Curwin Bosch, Grant Williams, Boeta Chamberlain, Jeremy Ward, Jordan Chait, JP Pietersen, Louis Schreuder, Lukhanyo Am (captain), Lwazi Mvovo, Madosh Tambwe, Makazole Mapimpi, Marius Louw, Murray Koster, Sanele Nohamba, S’bu Nkosi, Thaakir Abrahams.

 

The DHL Stormers and Springbok captain, Siya Kolisi prior to the game against the Cell C Sharks during the Super Hero Sunday match played at Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa, 19 January 2020. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

Team: Stormers

 Coach: John Dobson

 Captain: Siya Kolisi

 Key players gained: Jamie Roberts, Leolin Zas

Key players lost: Michael Kumbirai, Eben Etzebeth, Ramone Samuels, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Kobus van Dyk, Joshua Stander, Damian de Allende, Dan Kriel, JJ Engelbrecht, EW Viljoen, SP Marais.

Position in 2019: 10th overall and fourth in SA Conference.

 Best-ever result: Runners-up in 2010.

Season overview:

It will be an emotional campaign for the Stormers in 2020 as it marks the end of a 130-year association with their Newlands home. In 2021 the team moves across town to the modern Cape Town Stadium in Green Point. Despite the trauma of the situation for traditionalists, 2020 is a season that represents a real opportunity for the Cape Town franchise.

For the first time in three seasons they have a decent fixture list in the first half of the season, which offers the chance to gather momentum with seven home matches in their first 10 games. There are also seven Rugby World Cup 2019 winners in the squad, which includes halfbacks Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse.

It’s on the youthful shoulders of those two players that the success or otherwise of the Stormers season will hinge. The pack, with a swathe of Springboks such as captain Siya Kolisi, current World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Wilco Louw and Scarra Ntubeni will provide a granite-like foundation.

It’s behind the scrum that the Stormers are creaky. Jantjies and Willemse can be world beaters on their day and with experienced Welsh centre Jamie Roberts in the midfield and Dillyn Leyds at fullback, the spine of the team is impressive. While the pack has depth though, the backline is thin, and if any of those frontline players are injured the Stormers will look frail.

Coach John Dobson is also under instruction from the Stormers hierarchy to secure a semi-final berth, or else. It’s a lot of pressure for a man in his first season as head coach at this level in charge of a team that has not reached the last four of the tournament since 2012.

Dobson is a coach who believes in old-school values and wears his heart on his sleeve. It’s an approach that makes him one of the most interesting coaches in the competition but also one of the most emotionally susceptible to the pressures and vagaries that the competition will throw at him. He is a rugby romantic at heart and Super Rugby is seldom about romance.

 If nothing else, the Stormers campaign will be worth watching closely because of their quality squad and intellectual coach. The campaign has the potential to finally end the trophy drought in Cape Town, but it is more likely to end in glorious tatters.

 Squad:

Juarno Augustus, Kwenzo Blose, Jaco Coetzee, Paul de Wet, Dan du Plessis, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Johan du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Ben-Jason Dixon, Schalk Erasmus, Neethling Fouche, Michal Hazner, Lyle Hendricks, Herschel Jantjies, Dan Jooste, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi (captain), David Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, Wilco Louw, Leon Lyons, Godlen Masimla, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, David Meihuizen, Salmaan Moerat, Matt Moore, Ruhan Nel, Scarra Ntubeni, Sergeal Petersen, Rikus Pretorius, Jamie Roberts, Sazi Sandi, JD Schickerling, Seabelo Senatla, Chad Solomon, Edwill van der Merwe, Ernst van Rhyn, Abner van Reenen, Chris van Zyl, Ali Vermaak, Cobus Wiese, Damian Willemse, Nama Xaba, Leolin Zas. DM

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