This year’s Vodacom Super 14 competition kicks off next weekend. Rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen of www.iol.co.za analyses the South African teams and finds it’s going to be another big challenge for the local coaches.
Last year: champions (2nd on log)
Home ground: Loftus Versfeld
Coach: Frans Ludeke
Captain: Fourie du Preez
Pros: They’ll be confident after going all the way last year and making it into the last four for three years in a row. There’s good depth in the squad and their pack again looks a formidable force, even without the likes of Victor Matfield and Gary Botha. They’ve got a favourable draw with three out of their first four games at Loftus and only four games abroad. Loftus will be an ally.
Cons: The absence of Heyneke Meyer will be telling. So, too, the non-availability of Johan Roets, Gary Botha and Victor Matfield, while no one is quite sure when Pierre Spies will be ready to play.
Players to watch: Bryan Habana, of course, but also Gurthro Steenkamp, Wikus van Heerden and Chiliboy Ralepelle, if he’s fit. Former Griquas star Zane Kirchner could be a revelation.
Previous record: 1996 (semifinals) 1997 (8th) 1998 (11th) 1999 (12th) 2000 (11th) 2001 (12th) 2002 (12th) 2003 (6th) 2004 (6th) 2005 (semifinals) 2006 (semifinals) 2007 (champions)
Last year: 11th
Home ground: Vodacom Park
Coach: Naka Drotske
Captain: Juan Smith
Pros: They’re a close-knit bunch in Bloemfontein and their victory in last year’s Currie Cup final will serve as a massive confidence booster. There’s more experience in the side now than last year and with Naka Drotske in charge they’re sure to be a powerful unit up front.
Cons: They’re going to miss stalwarts such as Corniel van Zyl and Jannie du Plessis and even Marius Joubert and Philip Burger (both overseas) while a few injuries in crucial positions could see them come horribly unstuck. But more than anything, they’re going to miss No 10 Willem de Waal.
Players to watch: Duanne Vermeulen, Heinrich Brussow and Richardt Strauss should make a step up from last season, while Meyer Bosman will be key in the backline.
Previous record: 1997 (7th as Free State) 2006 (10th) 2007 (11th)
Last year: 12th
Home ground: Ellis Park
Coach: Eugene Eloff
Captain: Ernst Joubert
Pros: They’re a gutsy side with good team spirit and they’ll be buoyed by reaching the Currie Cup final last season. They’re an unpredictable bunch which makes them dangerous, while the return of Joe van Niekerk will hopefully boost the pack. There are not too many stars in the team, but the Lions rely on the sum total of the parts.
Cons: Andre Pretorius’ injury is a big setback, so too the absence of Jacques Cronje, who’s overseas, while injuries to key men like Jaque Fourie and Willem Alberts is concerning. There’s not a lot of experience beyond the best XV.
Players to watch: Jano Vermaak is an excellent scrumhalf, but look out for big performances from Heinke van der Merwe, Willie Wepener, Cobus Grobbelaar, Jaco Pretorius and Thabang Molefe.
Previous record: 1996 (10th) 1997 (5th) 1998 (12th) 1999 (11th) 2000 (semifinals) 2001 (semifinals) 2002 (11th) 2003 (12th) 2004 (12th) 2005 (11th) 2006 (13th) 2007 (12th)
Last year: runners-up (1st on log)
Home ground: Absa Stadium
Coach: Dick Muir
Captain: Johann Muller
Pros: An excellently coached unit, with good depth and plenty of experience and youthful flair. They’re good travellers, don’t fear anyone, anywhere and have built up a reputation as a side that’s tough to get the better of. They’ll want to go one better than last year after losing in the dying moments of the final in Durban.
Cons: No Butch James and no Percy Montgomery … they’re going to miss these guys immensely. And John Smit is also no longer around to fulfil the calming role he’s become so well known for.
Players to watch: Frederic Michalak could be great (or a big disappointment), and keep an eye on Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Brad Barritt and Waylon Murray. Also, the Du Plessis brothers, as well as Ryan Kankowski.
Previous record: 1996 (runners-up) 1997 (semifinals) 1998 (semifinals) 1999 (7th) 2000 (12th) 2001 (runners-up) 2002 (10th) 2003 (11th) 2004 (8th) 2005 (12th) 2006 (5th) 2007 (runners-up)
Last year: 10th
Home ground: Newlands
Coach: Rassie Erasmus
Captain: Jean de Villiers
Pros: They’ve got a new coach in Rassie Erasmus and we all know how innovative and positive he can be for a rugby team, so hopefully he’s able to weave his magic at the perennial under-achievers too. The Cape side have some superb individuals who can rip apart defensive walls and there seems to be a bit more depth in the ranks this year.
Cons: The pressure on the Stormers to produce the goods week-in, week-out will be tough to deal with, while a few dodgy performances in the opening rounds will have the critics questioning everything from the coach to the players to the tight-five. They look vulnerable in the front row, but hopefully new man Brian Mujati can alleviate those fears.
Players to watch: Brian Mujati for sure, also Ross Skeate, Ricky Januarie and Peter Grant. Conrad Jantjes and Tonderai Chavhanga need a big season.
Previous record: 1996 (11th) 1998 (9th) 1999 (semifinals) 2000 (5th) 2001 (7th) 2002 (7th) 2003 (9th) 2004 (semifinals) 2005 (9th) 2006 (11th) 2007 (10th)