The time is nigh! Super Rugby is upon us yet again and in a few weeks, five South African teams will brawl it out with ten rivals in a quest to be crowned the best in the Southern Hemisphere.
Last year our teams didn’t fare well. Only the Sharks and Stormers brought respectability to our pride by reaching the quarter-final stages. This year fans from across the country will be expecting big things from their team. Mediocre performances will be quickly engulfed in long beer drinking sessions in pubs in efforts to numb the pain of defeat.
Here’s a quick look at the SA teams that will be taking part and their chances.
The Durban franchise has been one of the better teams in recent tournaments. When on song they are a joy to watch. With a solid pack of forwards and enterprising backs, they know how to liven things up on the field.
- Bismarck du Plessis; if I had to describe this “oke” in one word it would probably be PHENOMENAL. Arguably the best player in South Africa right now, Bismarck is a monster on the pitch. Withfreak-like strength and the tenacity of a bullterrier, he makes a huge impact for any team he’s playing for. Not only is he a top hooker, his skill at the breakdown effectively makes him an extra fetcher. His playing capabilities make him a serious threat for any team he’s playing against, I sometimes actually feel sorry for his opposition, NOT. With John Smit plying his trade overseas (Saracens) expect Bismarck to relish the opportunity of being the number one choice for the hooker position.
It’s been over a decade since the team from the Cape last hoisted any trophy. Their fans have had to be patient, put up with ridicule from rival provinces and have faith that their team will one day be at the top. Even expensive multi-signings of top players has not brought them success.
- GioAplon; this pint sized utility back is explosive. Nifty footwork, speed and deceptiveness are what make him lethal. Give him space and he will leave you grasping nothing but blades of grass. Many underestimate him; assume that he is overrated because of his featherweight status. Big mistake. If there’s one thing that Gio has done over the years, it’s proving that he punches well above his weight. Tackling larger players is not a problem; he does not fear nor get intimidated when faced with someone with superior strength. Being able to play both fullback and wing, Gio will be instrumental for the Stormers. I long to see him side-step a few tacklers and sprint for 30m to score a try.
The only South African team to taste Super15 glory has been in a slump for the past two seasons. Their game plan seems outdated, slow and very one-dimensional. They have found it hard to ascend to the levels of their playing capabilities, and many have written off their chances for this year. With their best players having retired, this year will be a building phase for the Pretoria outfit so don’t expect too much from them.
- Francois Hougaard: this pocket-rocket is a machine, look past his redneck-like mullet and you have one the best players in the country. Every time he has the ball you know something will happen. Super strong for his size, amazingly quick, tenacious and a never give up attitude are his attributes. Anyone he dares get in his way will be side-stepped and left bewildered. One only has to look at his performance during the world cup to see what this guy can do. He tore defences apart and was a real livewire in the Bok team. With Fourie du Preez playing in Japan, the number 9 jersey will be his. There is huge expectation for Francois to deliver and I expect him to thrive under the pressure.
No other team produces talented youngsters than this franchise. With a feeder-system from Grey College, players with skill seem to pop-up in abundance every year. The likes of Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar come from this region. Rugby is tradition, one that resonates through every player affiliated to the union. Unfortunately this does not translate to success on the pitch. The Cheetahs always find themselves struggling at the bottom of the log, seemingly out of their depth.
- Heinrich Brussow: regarded as one of the best flankers in the world, Brussow has the sort of talent that gets you jumping up and down in awe of his abilities. Every time he plays you cant help but look out for the moment when he pulls a rabbit out of a hat (you don’t have to wait long though, he does it every 10mins). Best way to describe his “genius”. The only shame about his career is the union he plays for. Had he been playing for a bigger team, he’d undoubtedly be a champion.
Reigning Currie Cup champions, exciting and very committed, the Lions have shown a new-found resilience in recent months. Like the Cheetahs, they are traditionally one of the weaker teams in the Super15. They struggle when touring Australasia and suffer even more when playing against stronger local sides. Unfortunately I don’t see them doing considerably better this year; hopefully they will prove me wrong.
- Josh Strauss: I like to call him the “Bearded Wonder”, South Africa’s very own Sebastian Chabal, Strauss is unlike any other captain in the country. He leads from the front, acts as a battering ram for the full 80mins and backs down from no one. He is key to the Lions success, not only is his strength a game-swinger, his leadership raises the morale of players around him. Having tasted the ecstasy of lifting a trophy, only the foolish could expect anything less than a top performance from him this year.
There you have it. South Africa’s hopes lie heavily, on the shoulders of these five teams. Not only is the pride of their provinces at stake, but the bravado of every beer-drinking rugby fan in the country. 15 teams, 3 nations, 1 winner and many broken hearts.Let the odd balls start bouncing!