With little over a month left until the much-anticipated Super Rugby season kicks off, teams around the Southern Hemisphere will be putting the finishing touches on their preseason preparations. While for some, the offseason has proceeded smoothly, for others, it’s been a frantic race against time to be ready for D-day, which will be the last weekend in February.
Below we’ll take at the second of the two African conferences.
To Win Outright: 16/1
2015 Finish: Debut
These guys really interest me as a rugby punter and fan. The bulk of their squad has international experience with the Argentine national team, which means that they have played a bucket load of games together and know each others games inside out.
So with the nucleus of squad having been exposed to the rigours of the Castle Championship as well as a World Cup, the Jaguares are well poised to make a real impact at the tournament. I suspect they’ll play a very similar brand of rugby to that of the Argentine national team. So expect to see their pack dominate a lot of opposition scrums. They also won’t be scared to spread the ball to their exciting backline.
The two men who will be charged with getting this potentially explosive backline going are Nicholas Sanchez and Juan Martin Hernadez. The former had an immaculate World Cup and finished the event as the tournament’s top points scorer. While Sanchez has seen his stock rise in recent years, his understudy Hernadez has struggled to live up to the hype that was thrust upon him when he burst onto the scene at the end of 2003. The one time Sharks pivot has been plying his trade out in France after the coastal franchise declined to extend his one-year contract in 2009 due to Hernadez suffering a serious back injury. The man known in Argentine rugby circles as the ‘Maradonna of Rugby” will be looking to remind the rugby world why he was so highly rated in his early twenties when he takes to the pitch in a Jaguares jersey.
Player to watch for: Agustin Creevy
Regular readers of our rugby pieces are probably getting sick of reading about this man, but I can’t but help single him out as the Jaguares player to watch. While his skill set and work rate is on the par with some of the best loose forwards in the game, it’s his leadership skills that will be of vital importance to the Argentine side.
Verdict: Group Stage
They are definitely going to give some of the big name teams a run for their money but with their fixtures draw seeing them take on all the New Zealand sides, however, I think it's a year too early for this team to be considered as real title contenders.
To Win Outright: 330/1
2013 Finish: 15th (Old Table format)
Click here for the Kings fixtures list
The Kings seem to be having their own little running battle with the Sunwolves as to who can produce the most unorganized preseason of 2016. Contract disputes, in-fighting between the board of directors, and Cheeky Watson’s continual search for headlines, has left the Kings preseason in tatters.
So with the vast majority of their squad having left for greener pastures or more accurately left for pastures that pay you green, the Kings have had to scramble a side together. Most of their squad this year will consist of players who have plied their trade in the lower divisions of South African rugby. Vodacom Cup stalwarts Natando Kebe and Billy Dunton are two of the players that have been on trial with the Kings. And whilst the duo have put in some impressive displays for their provinces in the Vodacom Cup, the Kings having them on trial with their Super Rugby squad says a lot about the perilous position the Nelson Mandela Bay-based team is in.
Player to watch for: Siyanda Grey
Grey is one of the few long serving – and I use the term ‘long-serving’ very liberally here – to have remained with the Kings despite not receiving a paycheck for over three months last year. Which is rather surprising when you consider how talented this lad is. He has a great turn of pace, reads the game well, and isn’t afraid of making a hit. I can see him being one of the few bright spots in what is sure to be a gloomy season for the Kings.
Verdict: Group Stage
They were always going to struggle in this competition as they simply don’t have the funding. But with their preseason is boarding on a pantomime film, I cannot even envision them winning a single game.
Click here for a full tournament fixtures list
To Win Outright: 35/1
2015 Finish: Group StageClick here for the Lions fixtures list
The Johannesburg-based franchise has come on in leaps and bounds since their ignominious relegation from the tournament in 2012. They come into this year’s tournament off the back of a brilliant 2015 that saw them fall agonizingly short of a berth in the Super Rugby play-offs and win the Currie Cup.
I was taking a look through the teams in the conference’s squads before writing this preview and I was honestly surprised with how good this Lions team looks. They’ve got two brilliant flyhalves in the shape of Elton Jantjies and young gun Marnitz Boshoff, a scrum half who's pushing for national honours in the form of Faf De Klerk, and a centre pairing that looks more solid with each passing year.
They also have a fantastic loose trio and some great impact subs who can come off the bench and fill in for the starting loosies when injury or fatigue necessitates it.
The key factor for the lines this season may not necessarily be their playing personal but rather there coaching brains trust. Johan Ackerman has done wonders with the side since he took over from John Mitchell. The current Lion’s mentor, has brought a different style of man management to the union and it seems to be getting the best out of his players. He’s also a decent tactician as he demonstrated during last year’s unbeaten Currie Cup run.
Player to Watch for: Faf De Klerk
The diminutive nine will be going all out to secure the vacant Springbok number nine jersey, and I wouldn’t bet against the former Pumas man having usurped Cobus Reynecke in the Springbok selection pecking order come the close of the June internationals. De Klerk has a brilliant pass on him, is capable of keeping opposition fringe defenders honest with snipes, and has a decent range of kicking. He will be integral to the Lions chances of making the quarter-finals
They’ve got a well-drilled side who have come up through the youth ranks together and are willing to lay their bodies on the line for one another. It’s a bit of a left field call but I have a feeling the Lions will make the quarter-finals this year.
To Win Outright: 13/1
2015 Finish: Group Stage
Click here for the Sharks fixtures list
You can’t really read too much into Gary Gold’s embryonic tenure as Sharks coach. While his side had a torrid Currie Cup campaign last year, Gold hadn’t really been given the opportunity to stamp his seal on the team before the competition kicked off.
He’s now had a full preseason with the Sharks Super Rugby squad and hopefully this has helped him establish the brand of rugby he wants the KZN franchise to play. His deputy for the season will be Springbok Patrick Lambie. The local lad was announced as the Sharks Super Rugby skipper late last year, much to the delight of KZN faithful.
While I have to be honest here and say I’m not the hugest fan of having a back as your skipper, I do think Lambie is the best man for the job. He is vastly experienced and has a cool head on his still relatively young shoulders. He will lead a talented backline which will feature new recruit Willie le Roux.
Speaking of young shoulders, the Sharks will be looking to a few of their young forwards to fill in for their departed stalwarts. With the likes of the du Plessis brothers and Willem Alberts having left for French pastures, their young understudies, and the Sharks new signings will literally have some large boots to fill.
There are some exciting youngsters though, particularly prop Thomas du Toit and the du Preez brothers. The man affectionately known as “Thomas the Tank” is a rather interesting prospect. Able to play on both sides of the scrum, the youngster’s versatility could prove vital this term. The du Preez twins are versatile in their own right. Capable of playing across the back row or even in the second row at a push. Mark my words, these kids will have become household names come the conclusion of the season.
Player to watch for: Daniel Du Preez
Another of the du Preez offspring who is having his name bandied about in South African rugby circles is young Daniel du Preez. The loose forward was impressive during last year’s Currie Cup. The best way to describe his playing style is Jean Deysel-esque. A few opposition defenders will undoubtedly remember his name after he’s run into them this season.
Verdict: Group Stage
This really pains me to write this but I just can’t see this Sharks team getting any further in the tournament than the conference stage. They have a very handy looking backline, but their pack – which has been the union's biggest strength in recent years – has far too many youngsters in it for the KZN boys to make a real impact in the tournament.
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