With the Super Rugby season all but upon us, I thought I’d give my take on the South African teams and their chances in the tournament.
With the Springboks bringing home the World Cup in November of last year, there is fresh enthusiasm among rugby fans in South Africa. It has uplifted the country once again and made us all believe that we are the best rugby playing nation in the world. We will have to wait and see if that success will breathe new life into our franchise teams. I for one am hopeful for a better showing this season.
Last season it was the Sharks and Bulls who represented SA in the playoffs. However, both teams fell at the first hurdle leading us to question whether our boys could cut it at that level. For many the question marks remain over the depth of our franchise players and if we are producing the talent required to win the competition again. Its been ten years since the Bulls held the Super Rugby title aloft. That’s not to say we haven’t been competitive in the tournament though; the Lions have come the closest since then going to the final for three consecutive seasons from 2016 to 2018. So, let’s see which SA team this season in my view has the best chance of winning
The Bulls have lost some key players after the World Cup. Handre Pollard, Lood de Jager, Jason Jenkins and Jesse Kriel have all left overseas leaving big wholes behind them. Handre was arguably the most important player for the Bulls last season. When he came back from injury is when their playoff push gathered momentum. Kriel had a great season for the Bulls as well last season and will be a huge miss in that centre combination. The good news is that Bulls stalwart Morne Steyn has signed with them for the next two years while they work on new contracts for top Boks Trevor Nykane and RG Snyman. Looking at the Bulls squad quite a few young players are making their way, but they also have some good experienced players with a sprinkling of World Cup winners amongst their ranks. I don’t, however, see the Bulls making the playoffs this season I just think losing Pollard, Lood and Kriel is too big a loss to recover from this season and they may be building for seasons to come with some young talent coming through.
The Sharks have had a busy offseason signing several players in the offseason. Including BlitzBok star Werner Kok. Unfortunately, he will only be joining them in August after the Olympic games. The Sharks also have lost several key players who were pivotal throughout their season last year. Robert du Preez, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez and Akker van der Merwe have all gone abroad in search of a different challenge in their careers. leaving a sizable hole in the Sharks team for the 2020 season. As such I believe they will do well to reach the playoffs this season and while they have made some impressive signings in the offseason, I do not believe they will fill the gap left by the departing players.
The Stormers have also lost key members of their squad in Eben Etzebeth and Damian de Allende. While these are two huge losses, they have managed to retain the services of most of their Springboks. Lead by World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi they will have all the inspiration they need to go forth and conquer. The Stormers have also made a coaching change with John Dobson coming in for Robbie Fleck whose contract was up after last season. The Stormers for years have flattered to deceive in this competition. Having assembled several good squads over the years without winning a trophy. This season could be the perfect storm for the men from the Cape, with a kind schedule and key players returning maybe this could be their year for something special.
The Lions have the biggest mountain to climb this season with a staggering 16 players missing from last season squad. The Lions will have to lean on the experience of the players they have left to carry them through this Super Rugby season. After their incredible run from 2016 through until 2018, it would appear the Lions have entered a rebuilding phase. We’ve been here before with the Lions and hopefully this time they won’t take too long to rebuild their team, you would hate to see them at the bottom of the standings as they were for many years before they built a squad capable of challenging for a Super Rugby title.