G&GR’s own resident Saffa @JoelWynne tells you all you need to know about the South African Super Rugby conference — and he doesn’t even tip the Stormers!
Last year’s finalists will be looking to go one further in 2013 but they’ll need to get their early season form sorted out so they don’t have to make multiple crossings of the Indian Ocean, which is when jetlag got the better of them in 2012. A favourable draw that’s put their first five games in the Republic should help their cause.
The Durban based side will be welcoming back Francois Steyn and his huge boot could help them capture the elusive title after finishing runners-up four times in Super history. Butch James has brought his special tackling technique back and will offer suitable fly-half backup for Patrick Lambie, who has been chosen to specialise this year at number 10.
Outside of these guys are the nippy Paul Jordaan coming off an Under-20 World Cup victory and Lwazi Mvovo, who should flourish under the direction of new back line coach ‘King’ Carlos Spencer. JP Pieterson and Louis Ludik are the other stand-out players, with Ludik the difference in last years semi against the Stormers where he out-jumped ‘Mini-Percy’ Joe Pietersen.
The forward pack boasts an all-Springbok front row with the du Plessis brothers teaming up with ‘The Beast’ and this, combined with their back row, should see them do well in 2013. Kankowski is confirmed back from Japan and youngster Marcel Coetzee will be older and wiser from a season at Bok level. Just as impressive are their cheerleaders — 2:00 a.m. games never looked so good.
Players to watch: Francois Steyn, Pat Lambie, Marcel Coetzee, Bismark du Plessis
Conference Prediction: 1st
The men from Cape Town have fallen at the second-last hurdle the past two years despite a game built on impressive defence. The Stormers have benefited from the demise of the Lions and acquired some handy players including Elton Jantjies, Pat Cilliers and Green and Gold Rugby’s favourite, Jaco Taute.
The majority of the Stormers backs could walk into a Boks jersey and are led by Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana. The forward pack has one of the tallest second row pairings in Andries Bekker and Eben Etzebeth — both over two metres tall.
The loose forwards see the return of the Incredible Schalk to captain the 2013 side and he will take over Siya Kolisi’s spot at 6, which is very interesting since Kolisi was one of the finds of the 2012 season — strong, fast and a great linking player.
The real weak point is the continuation with Dewald Duvenhage at scrum-half. His 2012 form was one of the contributing factors to the continual misfiring of the Stormers’ back line. Nic Groom could be the Knight in Shining Armour this year.
Western Province won the Currie Cup in 2012 and will be looking to continue that form into Super Rugby in 2013. They have assembled a very good squad and combined with a draw that is very generous (with their first game outside the Republic not coming until round 11), it should see them top the conference or finish just behind the Shorks.
Players to watch: Eben Etzebeth, Jaco Taute, Elton Jantjes, Siya Kolisi
Conference Prediction: 2nd
The Bulls are the Germany of the rugby world: never discount them and they always seem to get to the finals, despite having had to do this song:
In the last couple of years the Bulls rugby franchise has snapped up every single talented rugby player under 20. They have 85 per cent of the Under 20 squad that won last year. The question is how much of an opportunity Frans Ludeke gives these young guns. Morne Steyn or Handre Pollard? Dewald Potgieter or Steven Addendorf? Wynand Olivier or Jan Serfontein?
Can the Bulls, the ultimate slowers-down of the game, adjust to the new ruck rules of losing the ball if it is not cleared after a 3-count? I saw Big Flippie van der Merwe last weekend in Cape Town and he is looking super-slim and trim, so it could be that the conditioning coach has been working hard with these boys in the off season.
Victor Matfield is the new forwards coach, so thank God he will never grace the pundit microphone again. Derick Hougaard is the kicking coach and Pieter ‘Slaptjips’ Rossouw continues as back-line coach.
In their greater squad they new have the backline firepower to deal up some delicious wide play, but is the mindset there? Or will they continue the policy of treating backs like smaller forwards and having them tuck the ball and present for continuity rather than trying to break the line?
I have a feeling after some early season losses that Ludeke’s hand will be forced and we will see them fast-track the youngsters into the squad. If this is so they could sneak into the semis.
Players to watch: Francois Hougaard, Lionel Mapoe, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Jan Serfontein
Conference Prediction: 3rd
The back line this year is more mouth-watering than last year. Johan Goosen (GOAT in training) will be back early season, with Johann Sadie and Willie le Roux looking to push for Bok selection this year. Raymond Rhule, the teenage wonder on the wing of Ghanaian descent, looks pretty tasty too.
Huge news is that Juan Smith makes a return to top-level rugby (or does he?) after two years on the sidelines. Nothing could make me happier since he is one of my top candidates for Greatest Bok Ever. He joins Heinrich Brüssow in attempting to rejoin the Bok Forward Fold.
The tight five is where this team falls down year after year and we can hope against hope that this year finally sees them come right here. Their style of play makes them the darlings of international supporters who sometimes despair of the dour rugby turned out by South Africa’s top teams. Expect tries aplenty but not the ability to grind out a victory when it counts.
I think that this year might be Naka Drotske’s last chance and to be frank they could do with some fresh blood here. As a union their budget is less than half of the top Saffer unions, but they are consistently the breeding ground of some of the best of the best. If they spent on a top-line coach rather than top-line players they could really box above their financial weight, but not in 2013.
Players to watch: Heinrich Brüssow, Adriaan Strauss, Cayleb Oosthuizen, Johan Goosen, Raymond Rhule
Conference Prediction: 4th
The newest addition to Super Rugby will struggle with the step up to the big time in 2013. The Port Elizabeth-based side were promised entry into the competition by the South African Rugby Union and the whole saga has debacle written all over it as they took the place of the Lions. Those two sides played a trial last week with the Lions coming out on top to add further embarrassment to the saga.
Luke Watson and a bunch of rag-tag never-has-beens is very much like the story of the Bad News Bears or the Mud Dogs from Waterboy, except this is not Hollywood, it’s the Super 15. One victory would make me surprised as then they sink without a trace. The coach of the Western Force must be wiping his brow, going ‘Well at least we are guaranteed one victory this year.’
Well done SARU, well done on making a significant attempt to grow the game of rugby into the stronghold of Xhosa rugby.
Players to watch: Luke Watson
Guaranteed Conference Position: 5th
What’s your tip for the Saffa conference?