Friday, February 24, 2012
We're now into Super Rugby 2012 season so after having looked at what the Kiwis and Aussies have on offer, it's time scope out the South African talent, as New Zealand's own Tony O'Sullivan talks us through each of the teams from the Republic.
Bulls fans will be a little nervous this year as many of their legendary senior players are moving on. It's up to a largely youthful and inexperienced squad to continue the legacy of this dominant South African franchise.
There is still a fair amount of quality in the team though. Number eight Pierre Spies, a truly terrifying man, will captain the side this year. He runs at teams like he's starving and there is boerewors (big South African sausage) on the other side of the defensive line.
Francois Hougaard, one of the standout players at the World Cup will partner up with Morne Steyn making for a lethal halves pairing. Can the Bulls win their 4th Super Rugby championship? For me, not this year, they’re too inexperienced. This season will be looked back on as part of their rebuilding phase.
Notable Losses: Victor Matfield, Bakies Botha, Guthro Steenkamp, Gary Botha, Fourie du Preez, Danie Rossow
Notable Signings: Johan Sadie, JJ Engelbrecht, Lionel Cronje, Jano Vermaak.
Biggest Strength: Great options of the back of rucks mails and scrums.
Biggest Weakness: Squad depth and inexperience. Over consumption of meat.
One to watch: Francois Hougaard.
The Sharks, or Shorks as some of their fans would call them, have an exciting young line up. They too saw some of their greats leave in the post world cup exodus, most notably John Smit. That finally leaves the door nice and open for arguably the world's best hooker, Bismark du Plessis.
In order to bring some more experience into the squad, the Sharks have made some interesting purchases. Frederick 'that was a forward pass' Michalak is an option at 9 and 10, while Marius Joubert, who may be a little long in the tooth, has heaps of knowledge that he will be able to pass down to the players around him.
As far as other players, there is class all over the park but I'm looking forward to seeing Patrick Lambie and former cheetah Riaan Viljoen show us their true potential in 2012. Is it the Sharks’ year? Could be.
Notable Losses: John Smit, Stefan Terblanche, Adrian Jacobs.
Notable Signings: Frederick Michalak, Marius Joubert, Riaan Viljoen
Biggest Strength: Starting test players all of over the park.
Biggest Weakness: Inability to earn bonus points has cost them big in the past.
One to watch: Bismark du Plessis.
The Lions. This pride is about as scary as a packed lunch. They've proved that they're consistent in Super Rugby, not finishing inside the top 10 since 2002. Is that all about to change? They did win the 2011 Currie Cup, so confidence and belief must be high within this struggling franchise.
There is a Kiwi influence within the team with two of NZ's most talented and infamous exports, John 'we're on a journey' Mitchell as the head coach, and King Carlos Spencer as the backs coach.
Could these cellar dwellers, with a little help from a couple of sheep shaggers, finally make a decent splash in Super Rugby? With new signing Butch James and the momentum of the Currie Cup they can definitely improve on past efforts.
Notable Losses: Burton Francis, Andre Pretorius, Jano Vermaak.
Notable Signings: Butch James, Ross Cronje, Guy Cronje
Biggest Strength: Self belief after Currie Cup win.
Biggest Weakness: Travelling out of the republic.
One to watch: Derick Minnie.
The Cheetahs, they’re a bit of an odd bunch. On paper they look like a quality side but unfortunately injury and a lack of depth beyond the starting 15 has cost them and their fans any results to be really proud of. They have a mouth watering loose trio with the likes of Heinrich Brossow, Juan Smith and Ashley Johnson, and a powerful front row.
Their back line lacks fire power though and would hardly strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. With Andries Strauss holding them together, and if much talked about Johan Goosen gets an opportunity, they could yet turn a few heads and upset some more fancied opposition.
But it’s the same old story with the Cheetahs, it's always if this and maybe that and in the course of a Super Rugby season injuries will happen and they've shown time and again that they simply don't have the depth to adapt their side when the proverbial hits the fan.
Notable Losses: Sarel Pretorius, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Kabamba Floors.
Notable Signings: No one of note.
Biggest Strength: Loose forward trio.
Biggest Weakness: Bloemfontein
One to watch: Johan Goosen - the up and comer can get penalties over from 65 metres+ !!
The Stormers strike me as the Hurricanes of South Africa - they always have a great squad and often look unbeatable during the regular season, but they never quite get over the line. The Stormers however are in better shape than the Canes this year, but there is still nothing to indicate they will win in 2012.
Their main strike weapon Bryan 'I used to be awesome' Habana, is looking like there is a reason wingers are generally not that great later into their careers and I just get the feeling this will be another almost year for the Newlands based franchise.
They have a great squad and a good chance of winning the South African conference, but with the loss of Francois Louw and Jaque Fourie to sides abroad, it's unlikely that they will have the goods to go all the way in Super Rugby this season.
Notable Losses: Jaque Fourie, Francois Louw, Ricky Januarie, CJ van der Linde.
Notable Signings: JP du Plessis, Joe Pieterson
Biggest Strength: Can play the complete game and look like world beaters.
Biggest Weakness: Semi Finals and Finals.
One to watch: Gio Aplon.
The South African teams kick off tonight when the Bulls host the Sharks in Pretoria
You can follow Tony O'Sullivan on Twitter here