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Super Rugby 2020: South African Conference Preview

Aphelele Fassi of the Sharks celebrates

Shaun Goosen takes a look at the five South African conference franchises as they gear up for the new Super Rugby season. 

Image Copyright – Steve Haag Sports


The Bulls have suffered a number of Big-Name departures from Loftus Versfeld since the start of last season. World Cup winners Lood de Jager, Duane Vermeulen, Handre Pollard, Jesse Kriel and Schalk Brits have all left Pretoria and, with coach Pote Human unable to adequately replace them, the side isn’t expected to reach the heights of last season. In fairness, Human has been in a virtually irretrievable position, but the return of Morne Steyn and Juandre Kruger, as well as the signing of Josh Strauss, will add some relief.

Warrick Gelant of the Bulls
Warrick Gelant’ will provide plenty of excitement for the Bulls this season. Image Copyright – Steve Haag Sports. 

It’s a real shame about the dissolution of Human’s squad. The 60-year-old had the luxury of calling on a number of core Springbok players during his inaugural campaign and a second season together may have even led to some silverware. As it happened, the Bulls finished as SA Conference runners-up to the scintillating Jaguares and were eventually narrowly knocked out of the quarterfinals in a thrilling 28-35 defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington.

The team of 2020, not unlike some other SA sides, is a vastly inexperienced group who will need to depend on seasoned campaigners such as Burger Odendaal, Warrick Gelant and Trevor Nyakane to come good this season. While the Conference title may just be out of reach, they will still look to claim a playoff berth as the tournament progresses.

Please note that is article was penned prior to Pablo Matera leaving the Jaguares.

Following their monumental showing during last year’s edition, the Jaguares will look to keep building on the structures in place to consistently challenge for the Super Rugby title in the years to come. Coach Gonzalo Quesada has done a masterful job in improving the Argentinians since he took over in 2018. Theirs is a side that has grown tremendously of late, with a very distinct style of footy that works to their advantage in a big way.

Under the leadership of star flanker Pablo Matera, the Jaguares should be contenders again this year. Their loss to the Crusaders in last season’s Final, coupled with Argentina’s dismal showing at the World Cup in Japan, could well be the spark this proud team needs to get over the line this time out.

Pablo Matera of the Jaguares takes the ball into contact
Pablo Matera will be key in the Jaguares bid for a first Super Rugby title. Image Copyright – Steve Haag Sports. 

Three home games first up should see the South Americans start promisingly enough, but it will be against the Kiwi sides that their mettle will truly be tested; especially with an April rematch with the Crusaders in Christchurch to come. Having claimed the SA Conference title in 2018, they will be eager to leave their mark again.


After participating in three successive Super Rugby Finals, Lions fans were left disappointed when their beloved outfit was knocked out of last season’s competition without qualifying for the playoffs. With Swys de Bruin having stepped down from his role as head coach and Ivan van Rooyen taking over, the Johannesburg-based side are expected to play slightly differently in 2019.

While they will again be missing some important players this season (Warren Whiteley chief among them), the signing of Jannie du Plessis was a good one, with the 70-cap Bok set to add oodles of experience in a number of departments; the scrum being first and foremost.

Wandisile Simelane of the Lions runs with the ball
This could be a breakthrough season for Wandisile Simelane. Image Copyright – Steve Haag Sports. 

As newly crowned world champions, Elton Jantjies and Malcolm Marx will look to lead from the front for their franchise, while the continued development of players like Tyrone Greene and Wandisile Simelane will make for fascinating viewing. The latter two in particular are primed for big things and may bring back some much-needed X-factor to Emirates Airline Park.


With controversial former coach Robert du Preez’s reign now a thing of the past, the Sharks will look to move on into a brighter (and certainly less hostile) future. New boss Sean Everitt has been involved with rugby in the province for an extended period now and remains a popular figure at Jonsson Kings Park. He will be tasked with leading the Durbanites this year following their quarter-final defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra last season.

The four-time runners-up finished third in the SA Conference and sixth overall in 2019, with seven wins and eight-regular season losses to go with their 21-all draw in Christchurch. The exit of local legend Beast Mtawarira, as well as the du Preez brothers, will leave a massive hole to fill from a playing and leadership perspective, and it will be up to the likes of Luckhanyo Am, Craig Burden, Tera Mtembu and Louis Schreuder to step up and steer this inexperienced vessel.

Aphelele Fassi of the Sharks runs at Stormers' defenders
Aphelele Fassi will get far more game time in this season’s competition with Curwin Bosch set to take the 10 jersey. Image Copyright – Steve Haag Sports.

The Sharks kick-off their overseas tour as early as Round Two after a home opener against the Bulls. One or two wins in Australasia will tee them up quite nicely for the rest of the season, where they will look to assume control of their Conference. In players like Curwin Bosch, Aphelele Fassi, Makazole Mapimpi and Sbu Nkosi, the men in black and white have the making of one of the deadliest backlines in the competition. If they get the right platform up front, there’s no reason this side can’t develop into one of the Southern Hemisphere’s most exciting.


With Jamie Roberts rumoured to sign for the Capetonians and the presence of Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit still there, the Stormers should be in for a big season in 2019. Despite the loss of, amongst others, a certain Eben Etzebeth, the 2010 runners-up will definitely be aiming to clinch the SA Conference title in the months ahead, with a settled and talented squad at their disposal.

Siya Kolisi of the Stormers carries the ball
Siya Kolisi’s leadership

The introduction of John Dobson at the expense of Robbie Fleck is a step in the right direction, with the former set to give even more promising youngsters a shot at securing a place in the run-on XV. Players like Cobus Wiese, Salmaan Moerat and Juarno Augustus should be well on their way to fulfilling their immense potential and can expect plenty of game time.

With seven World Cup winners in the squad, the hype seems to be slowly returning to Newlands this season. Their failure at making the playoffs in 2019 still hurts, so don’t bet against them taking ownership of the Conference.

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