Home Rugby Super Rugby Preview: Can Any South African Team End The New Zealand Dominance?

Super Rugby Preview: Can Any South African Team End The New Zealand Dominance?

The Super Rugby season kicks off this weekend with two matches in the South African Conference.

Runners-up from the last two seasons, the Lions commence their attempt to go one better when they host the Sharks in Johannesburg on Saturday.

On the same day, the Stormers are at home against the Jaguares – the sole Argentinian side in the competition.

The Bulls have to wait until February 24 to get their season started. They have a tough task as they host 2016 champions, the Hurricanes.

South African Conference

Bulls

What are their chances?

They aren’t winning the competition and, to be honest, it is hard to see them making the playoffs.

This is a team that won four matches last year and finished below the Kings and the Cheetahs. The player drain from South Africa in the last few years has been remarkable and the Bulls have felt it more than most.

They have lost players such as Flip van der Merwe, Jacques du Plessis, Pierre Spies, Francois Hougaard, Nico Janse van Rensburg, Marcel van der Merwe, and Jan Serfontein, the vast majority of those players to Montpellier.

What makes them interesting?

Their recent plight is similar to what Munster went through between 2012 and 2014 but to a worse extent.

After all, this is a team that won the competition in 2007 and then back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.

They also have players with a huge amount of potential, the world outside of South Africa seems to have forgotten about Handre Pollard, while Jesse Kriel and Lood de Jager are two players currently involved with the Springboks.

If they were a PRO14 team they’d be…

Cardiff Blues. A team that is known for its tradition and in a rugby hotbed, they now look nowhere near finishing near the top of the table.

They have some talented players involved with the national team but they will still be towards the lower end of the table.

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Jaguares

What are their chances?

Difficult to say. The Jaguares are effectively the Argentina national team, which two and a half years ago made the World Cup semi-finals.

But in the off-season, they’ve lost Ramiro Herrera, Lucas Noguera Paz, and Santiago Cordero, three members of that matchday 23. In fact, only 13 of that 23 will be playing for the Jaguares this season.

New coach Mario Ledesma could make a difference. I see them pushing for, but ultimately missing out on the playoffs.

What makes them interesting?

As with the Sunwolves, the Jaguares are effectively a national team. It is in everyone’s interest for rugby to be genuinely competitive, and Argentina has not been that in the Southern Hemisphere since the last World Cup.

They could bring it together for the World Cup, as they have done in 2007 and 2015 but it would be better for World Rugby if Argentina were competitive all the time rather than solely at World Cups, and that starts with the Jaguares.

If they were a PRO14 team they’d be…

Benetton. They’re the main club side in their country. They will be difficult to play at home but it is often the away trips where they lose their shape.

They are also very similar in another way, everyone likes to say they’re making ‘good progress’, and while their progress is undeniable it is better described as mediocre.

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Lions

What are their chances?

Very good. They should make the semi-finals at least but are genuine contenders to be the overall winners.

The only reason people have question marks is that they’ve lost their coach, Johan Ackerman, and their feisty scrum-half in recent years, Faf de Klerk.

Despite this, the Lions at top strength would feature a dozen Springboks, and those that haven’t yet been capped such as Kwagga Smith could easily go to the World Cup in 18 months.

What makes them interesting?

The Lions pursuit of a Super Rugby title is reminiscent of Munster’s pursuit of the Heineken Cup in the early noughties.

They have lost the last two finals, outplayed by the Hurricanes in 2016, they came closer last year against the Crusaders, and it would’ve been interesting to see how they got on had Warren Whitely been fit and Kwagga Smith not been sent off in the 38th minute.

If they were a PRO14 team they’d be…

Munster. A team with a strong following in a rugby hotbed. They were beaten finalists last year and have been making the right moves now for a while.

But people have questions as the coach who took them so close to these titles has now left, the playing staff remains largely the same so they should still be in contention.

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Sharks

What are their chances?

The Sharks are the hardest team to judge in the competition.

Last year they squeezed into the playoffs, having lost to the Bulls at home and failing to beat the terrible Rebels in Durban.

But when they made it to the knock-out stages they came very close to beating the Lions.

Pat Lambie has since left but his absence will be softened by outstanding youngster Curwin Bosch. They should make the last play-off place where they will be knocked out in the first knock-out round.

What makes them interesting?

If South Africa are to fully apply their highly controversial ‘quota’ system then the Sharks, Lions and Stormers will provide the majority of those players.

Exciting youngster Bosch, centre Lukhanyo Am, wing Makazole Mapimpi, and experienced prop Tandai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira, are just a few players in this side that could feature for South Africa at the World Cup if they are going to use the quota system, while twins Dan and Jean-Luc du Preez could be among those unlucky to miss out.

If they were a PRO14 team they’d be…

It is difficult to compare them to a PRO14 team but they are like Everton in football, a mid-table team who is not going to really challenge.

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Stormers

What are their chances?

They’ve consistently made the playoffs in the last few seasons and should do it again this year.

They’re the second best South African team and they should remain so this season with Cheslin Kolbe and Juan de Jongh being the only departures and these players have been replaced by Craig Barry and JJ Engelbrecht, with Raymond Rhule also being a good addition.

The Stormers will surely make the playoffs but they will not win the competition, second in the South African Conference, but losing quarter-finalists is the most common prediction.

What makes them interesting?

The Stormers forward pack on full strength contains seven Springboks, so their performances will give a good idea of how South Africa are doing in this crucial area of their game.

The Stormers are also a microcosm of what has been going on throughout South Africa in recent years.

Since 2015, they have lost experienced players such as Schalk Burger, proven leaders such as Duane Vermeulen, players with a small number of caps for the Springboks but who drive the overall quality and competition for places, such as Jaco Taute and Vincent Koch.

The player drain from South Africa since that World Cup has been alarming and it left Allister Coetzee in an awkward place when he was told to only pick one or two players based in Europe and found out his team wasn’t competitive.

A good year for the Stormers might make former Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus’ start as Springboks coach easier.

If they were a PRO14 team they’d be…

Cheetahs. Play some good attacking rugby, and should make the playoffs, but will they ever really challenge if they continue to lose one or two of their best players almost every year?

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