MARIETTE ADAMS and DYLAN JACK debate which team can top the South African conference in the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby season.
ADAMS says nobody can challenge the Jaguares:
Based on personnel and the evidence of their respective pre-season outings, there is every reason to believe the South African teams will be much improved this year compared to 2019. They seem better conditioned and equipped this time around. We live in hope.
However, as has so often been the case in the past, vision and execution don’t go hand in hand for local sides. They set themselves targets theoretically, but executing those plans are where South Africans teams fall well short. That and an inability to adapt and change course in pressure situations.
By contrast, the Jaguares have – in their short history – become renowned for doing the opposite. They’ve come a long way since their earlier years in the competition when their matches were marred by yellow and red cards as a result of ill-discipline, foul play and needless thuggish acts. In fact, the Argentinian franchise has been the most consistent outfit in the South African conference and one of the most consistent teams overall.
They were conference runners-up in 2018 and topped the conference last year having won five of their eight inter-conference matches against South African opposition and 11 out of 16 regular-season games in general. And with a maiden appearance in the final, where they were beaten by the all-conquering Crusaders, 2019 marks the Jaguares most successful Sper Rugby campaign yet.
Which brings us to the present. Can the Jaguares deliver a repeat of their heroics? Absolutely they can.
With this Test-laden squad, it’s a matter of will they be able to shrug off the difficulties they experienced at international level with Argentina post-Super Rugby.
Unlike three out of their four conference rivals (Lions, Stormers, Sharks), the Jaguares and Vodacom Bulls will not have to adjust to playing under a new coach, meaning their team structures and tactics will not be unsettled. And unlike the Bulls, the Jaguares actually have a winning formula going for them now.
I hope the local sides prove me wrong, but I simply cannot see the Jaguares releasing the stranglehold they have on this conference.
JACK says it will be the Stormers’ year:
The Stormers will not have a better shot at topping the conference than they will in 2020.
Key to their cause is that they have retained a number of the 2019 World Cup-winning Springboks. Captain Siya Kolisi, props Wilco Louw, Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe as well as hooker Bongi Mbonambi and World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit will all provide a massive boost to the Stormers pack this season.
‘It was tough, I won’t lie,’ Kolisi said on turning down overseas offers. ‘We all have families who we want to look after. But speaking only for myself, personally I think that there is so much to do here in South African rugby. There is so much value I can add in playing here. I can’t make the changes that I want to make in my community by being elsewhere. I believe in this union so much. To be honest, I really want to win a title with the Stormers. I have been here for nearly nine years and haven’t won a single thing.’
It appears, at least in Kolisi’s view, that there is still unfinished business with the Stormers.
Adding to this, for the first time since Peter Grant donned a blue-and-white jersey, the Stormers having a genuine star-quality halfback pairing to take control of the team’s play. Herschel Jantjies seems to have lost none of the enthusiasm or energy that made him such a hit in his breakthrough season, while Damian Willemse would have benefited hugely from a loan spell at Saracens. The duo are certainly the future of SA Rugby and, with the full trust of coach John Dobson, they can take the team to the next level.
While they have only added one player to their roster in Jamie Roberts, he could end up playing a vital part in the Stormers’ campaign. The 33-year-old Wales and British & Irish Lions centre obviously brings plenty of experience in an area where the Stormers are lacking, but can also be a like-for-like replacement for Damian de Allende in terms of his ball-carrying ability and vision.
In the case of the Jaguares, there is a chance that a number of their players may feel the effects of a disastrous World Cup campaign. Plus there is the fact that they have lost inspirational captain Pablo Matera to France.
If the Stormers manage to use their favourable start to their advantage, they can most certainly challenge the Jaguares for conference honours this year and perhaps go on to give Newlands a grand farewell.
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