Turning our attention to the South African challenge and what a pleasure it is to say there might be a ray of hope for us again this year.
Our main challenge should again come from the Bulls. They`ve won before and know how to do it again. Sure there were some extenuating circumstances, like the Crusaders resting all their All Blacks and the Aussie teams who had to spread their talent pool a bit too thin but you can not disregard the fact that the Bulls were there to take advantage of these favourable circumstances.
However they somehow slumped to 10th the year after they won the super 14 for the first time so the possibility for a colossal collapse is there, but I don`t expect history to repeat its self. Everyone knows the only reason they lost the plot in 2008 was the absence of Victor Matfield. This year he`ll be there to lead the charge again. They have the confidence and the depth needed to defend their title with success. Add to this a very favourable draw and you could almost predict a Bulls vs Crusader final right now.
True the Cheetahs have been a bit of a bogey team for them in the past but the Bulls face them in the first round and we all remember how the Cheetahs started their Curry Cup campaign last year. A five point haul in Bloemfontein followed by a run of four home games could see them top the log comfortably before they attempt the overseas leg of the competition. They’ll target matches against the Reds and Force on their trip and if they can pick up the odd bonus point they`ll head home on a high, ready for the big showdown against the Crusaders in Fortress Loftus.
What about the loss of Habana and the fact that Bakkies Botha will only join them later in the campaign you might ask? Habana’s loss will be felt but in Van Den Heever they have a replacement with lots of pace and he will be eager to impress.
They have plenty of depth, arguably the best scrumhalf in the world and a flyhalf that`s been there and know how to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Danie Rossouw is a more than able replacement for Bakkies Botha to start off with and when Bakkies rejoins them their forwards will be awe inspiring again.
Possible XV: Kirchner, Ndungane, Pretorius, Olivier, Van Den Heever, Steyn, Du Preez, Spies, Wannenburg, Matfield, Rossouw, Stegmann, Kruger, Botha, Steenkamp.
Prediction : Semi Finals
The Cheetahs have been the South African whipping boys all through the super 14. Will they turn it around this year?
If you look at the players at their disposal you`ll notice they have the best front row in South Africa.
Yes they are thin at lock, but their loose three could cause a lot of heartache for opposing teams. Rugby is a simple game, in order to win, you need the ball and the Cheetahs have mastered the art of starving opposition teams of possession.
But what can their backline do with all this possession? In Sarel Pretorius they have one of the finds of the 2009 Curry Cup, he`ll keep opposing teams busy and their defence around the scrum honest.
Naas Olivier might be a bit out classed in this competition but in Bosman they have the physicality needed in mid field. There`s the tall Daniller who will be valuable under the predictable high balls and don`t forget their exciting finishers Mapoe and Nokwe.
Like most South African teams depth is a very real threat here. If they should pick up a couple of crucial injuries they could find themselves fighting for survival.
Possible XV: Daniller, Mapoe, Uys, Bosman, Nokwe, Olivier, Pretorius, Johnson, Smith, De Villiers, Breedt, Brussow, Nel, Strauss, Du Preez.
Prediction: They face some tough opposition on the road and will struggle to get off the bottom of the log. People know about Brussow now and will come up with a plan to counter him.
The Stormers acquired the services of Jaque Fourie and Brian Habana to bolster their backline this year. Last year their forward pack came on in leaps and bounds and it`s interesting to note the probably had the second best front row in the Curry Cup. So their traditional weak point, the forwards is now sorted out and barring injury to key players they could get right into the thick of things this year. Problem is, we expect a lot from them every year and every year they somehow manage to disappoint their loyal supporters.
They`ve got options at flyhalf, Grant to take the flat ball and De Waal to kick them out of trouble in the wet. In Anton van Zyl they have a lock to give them go forward and with captain Schalk Burger leading by example you won`t be surprised if they`re still around at the business end of the competition.
Possible XV : Jantjies, Pieterson, Fourie, De Jongh, Habana, Grant, January, Burger, Vermeulen, Bekker, Van Zyl, F Louw, Harris, Liebenberg, Blaauw
Prediction: They should improve on their dismal 10th place last season, but would they be good enough to rise above mid table?
The Lions wisely thought to splash out on a coach and not just players. In Dick Muir they have found someone to lead them out of the super 14 swamp that they find themselves in. Muir`s record speaks for itself. In one year he led the Sharks from stone last up to 5th . Question is, can he do it with the Lions? The Lions lost some key men, Jaque Fourie, Andre Pretorius, Louis Ludik and most importantly Willem Alberts.
Their most important signing is Carlos Spencer, but does he still have enough in the tank to take this young Lions backline to the next level? And would Doppies le Grange or Walter Venter be up to the task of receiving his famous no look passes?
They have an exciting loose trio, Labuschagne and Van Der Merwe will stand their ground and in Van Der Merwe and Buys they have the props to pile on the pressure.
It will be interesting to see if Dick Muir gets the balance of the team right. Will he stick with guys like Mentz and Rose who have failed the team on more than one occasion or would he give exciting youngsters like Lewis a run?
Possible XV: Lewis, Chavanga, Hollenbach, Venter, Noble, Spencer, Vermaak, Mokuena, Clever, Van Der Merwe, Labuschagne, Grobbelaar, Buys, Van Dyk, Van Der Merwe.
Prediction: With the sword of relegation not hanging over their heads this year they might just decide to give it a full go. With Dick Muir to steady the ship they should improve on their lowly 12th position of last year. Look for them to leapfrog to 10th .
The Sharks looked set for a great season in 2009 but somehow their wheels just seem to come off.
They have to learn how to handle setbacks. If they don`t learn how to get the better of their bogey teams, the Cheetahs and Reds, they won`t taste success in this competition. On paper again they have an impressive looking first fifteen but if you look deeper than that you`ll see the cracks already starting to set in. At flyhalve they have to pin their hopes on Monty Dumond who performed well enough for them in the Curry Cup but would he be able to take the next step up? And if worst come to worst, as it usually does in the Super 14, and Monty picks up a serious injury, do they have someone to fill his boots? Ruan Pienaar is still injured but even if he is ready it will take him some time to settle into the flyhalve position again, time the Sharks don`t have.
Then there`s the questionable tactics they employed last year of kicking possession away. If they persist with this approach against dangerous sides like the Chiefs and Blues it will be another disappointing year for the Sharks supporters.
They`ve got an impressive front row and added some much needed bulk in the loose trio with Willem Alberts. With clever substitutions they can out muscle the opposition in the first hour and then send on the agile Kankowski to deliver the knock-out punch late in the second half.
The Sharks looks fairly set in the forwards department but in the backline they could run into serious trouble when injuries sets it. And we might as well face it, you don`t go through the super 14 without a couple of serious injuries.
Possible XV: Terblanche, Ndungane, Jacobs, Swanepoel, Pietersen, Dumond, McLeod, Alberts, Deysel, Muller, Sykes, Botes, Smit, Du Plessis, Mtawarira.
Predicition: The Sharks have a lot of potential and with a bit of luck they could find themselves close to a play off spot. But then they have to overcome the Bulls in Pretoria. . .Tweet