It’s time. Time to finally peel off the Springbok jersey you’ve been wearing since 2 November, offer it up to the washing machine, and replace it with your favourite Vodacom Super Rugby team’s kit.
There’s something in the air in 2020. Maybe it’s the residual hype of entering a calendar year with South Africa as the top-ranked nation in the world for the first time in what seems like an age. Maybe it’s the new brooms sweeping clean at so many unions, and the new names and faces popping up on squad lists. Maybe it’s the mounting tension of a three-year uninterrupted championship streak from the mighty Crusaders, or the prospect of the sun poetically but inevitably setting on the Sunwolves. Or, maybe you’re just addicted to rugby.
There’s only one way to truly enjoy rugby, and that’s with one hand on an ice cold beer and the other hand frantically hitting refresh on the stats page to see if your fantasy player was credited with a try assist even though he last touched the ball three phases earlier. Fantasy rugby spices up every viewing, and renders every fixture – yes, even Australian derbies – meaningful. No matter whether you’re a Predictor man (shout-out to Superbru), a Classic man (RIP Fox Sports), or a member of the Draft master race (keep an eye out for progress from Draft Rugby or head over to Fantasy Rugby Draft now to set up a league) – you’ll have skin in the game.
So, with no further ado, here’s the annual Fantasy Rugby Cheat Sheet to winning the respect and admiration of your colleagues, friends and extended in-laws, courtesy of Elite Rugby Banter Podcast:
Gold: Akira Ioane – An elite loose-forward option specialising in broken tackles and run metres, he’s certain to lead the points-scoring in his position and offers much-needed differential.
Silver: Rieko Ioane – In an underwhelming 2019 he shifted back to centre, but at just 22 he still has the raw athleticism to dominate match-ups and cross the whitewash.
Bronze: Stephen Perofeta – Injury put an end to his 2019 season before it even began, but the young playmaker is slated to slot in at fullback and known to capitalise on space with ball in hand.
Wildcard: Emoni Narawa – This Fijian sensation set the Mitre 10 alight with his try-scoring capabilities, and if he’s able to capture a starting berth in a competitive back three expect more of the same.
Gold: Folau Fainga’a – Hands down the best fantasy hooker in the game, benefiting from a forward-oriented game plan that had him finish 2019 in third on the try-scoring list.
Silver: Tom Banks – A smooth operator from the back who racked up the most minutes played in 2019 and showed no sign of slowing down.
Bronze: Allan Alaalatoa – Regularly tops the scoring charts in his position with high work rate on both sides of the ball and an engine that doesn’t quit.
Wildcard: Solomone Kata – The latest in a growing line of league converts, Kata brings immense physicality and power and is likely to start from day one in a backline sorely missing the try-scoring power of Henry Speight.
Gold: Lizo Gqoboka – Unlucky to miss out on a free trip to Japan last year, but dominated the fantasy charts on the back of prolific ball-carrying ability and a low error and penalty rate in the scrums.
Silver: Rosko Specman – The dreaded Sevens star is back in blue this year and with a new-look backline could be relied on more than he was in 2019, which means more of the hot-stepping we’ve come to expect from him.
Bronze: Manie Libbok – Morne Steyn’s return has put some pressure on the young pivot, and the starting berth is still up for grabs – but he’s shown his attacking prowess as Pollard’s understudy and will perform if given the opportunity.
Wildcard: Abongile Nonkontwana – The lanky blindsider has a surprising turn of pace and showed at the Cheetahs that he can work just as well in the tight as in the loose. With various starting spots up for grabs, he could establish himself as a starter for years to come.
Gold: Damian MacKenzie – Injury cut short a typically dazzling 2019 season, but the silver lining is that he likely won’t be subject to All Blacks rest-week requirements, and with the best Chiefs side we’ve seen in years expect great things from him.
Silver: Anton Lienert-Brown – Low-key one of the stars of Super Rugby last year but far from established at an All Blacks level, which will keep his fire burning.
Bronze: Luke Jacobson – Concussion ended his season early and sidelined him for the RWC last year, but once he returns to the playing field expect him to pick up where he left off, with eye-popping fantasy scores.
Wildcard: Solomon Alaimalo – Another of 2019’s walking wounded, he’s back to fight it out in the wings with Sean and Shaun (Wainui and Stevenson), but if he gets the minutes you’ll get the points.
Gold: Richie Mo’unga – Hands down the best flyhalf in the competition, and even with mandatory rest weeks can surely be expected to top the scoring charts in his position.
Silver: Sevu Reece – Broke Fantasy Rugby last year with unprecedented new heights on a regular basis. The only question is whether he can come anywhere close to replicating it this year.
Bronze: George Bridge – Now preferred as the starting All Blacks strike winger, Bridge saw healthy numbers in 2019, but can – and probably will – do better in 2020.
Wildcard: Will Jordan – The most hyped youngster in Super Rugby since Rieko Ioane broke through, and while he is set for some game time early in the season it remains to be seen whether this will be the year that he finally establishes himself in a backline with more stars than the Milky Way.
Gold: Shannon Frizzell – A rocky 2019 had him benching more often than not, but when he did play he never failed to score big. Luke Whitelock’s departure will have opened the door for him at last.
Silver: Josh Ioane – Equally comfortable at 10, 12 and 15, the only question is where he’ll get his points, not if.
Bronze: Rob Thompson – A mainstay of the team, and one of only a few players guaranteed to start in a new-look backline.
Wildcard: Josh McKay – He topped the Mitre 10 try-scoring charts last year and has been hailed as one of the fastest men in NZ rugby, but we’ll have to wait for Week 2 to find out if he’ll be in the starting XV.
Gold: Ngani Laumape – The lynchpin of the backline and not subject to All Blacks rest weeks after controversially missing out on the Japan campaign. Guaranteed to score big.
Silver: Jordie Barrett – Finally the best Barrett in a team for the first time since leaving high school, and while his position for the year could be any one of 10, 12, 13, 14 or 15, what isn’t in doubt is his ability to rack up fantasy points.
Bronze: Ben Lam – The powerful strike man has a reputation for scoring tries, but tends to go missing in big games. Will need to step it up in 2020.
Wildcard: Asafo Aumua – Heralded as a rising star in 2017, the 22-year-old is entering his third season of Super Rugby but has only started five games in that time. With Dane Coles being managed for game time, it might be the year he finally shows up on the main stage.
Gold: Emiliano Boffelli – Having cemented himself as the best fullback in Argentina, expect him to start every game when fit and be central to the backline’s operations.
Silver: Guido Petti – Equally dangerous at lineout time as he is with a half gap in front of him, the rangy lock is a certain points-scorer in a position that’s tough to fill in fantasy.
Bronze: Bautista Delguy – This flying wing has struggled with some injuries in the last few seasons, but when fit he’s shown an affinity for try-scoring that should have fantasy managers perking up whenever he touches the ball.
Wildcard: Bautista Pedemonte – Fresh from two years of U20 representation, the dangerous back rower has been slated by some as an immediate starter in a depleted forward pack. If true, he could be immensely valuable.
Gold: Andries Coetzee – Not named in the squad for Week 1 due to a late return from the Japanese second division, he’s one of only a few certain starters in a raw Lions team and can always be relied on for a few decent points.
Silver: Tyrone Green – Expected to slot in at wing while Coetzee is still around, this former age-group star is fantasy points on legs if he gets the game time he deserves.
Bronze: Hacjivah Dayimani – Returning from a stint with the Sevens squad, this wing in the body of a loose forward is primed to get a starting jersey at last.
Wildcard: Wandisile Simelane – Doesn’t currently appear to be in the first-team plans, but has shown his quality in the past. Keep an eye on him.
Gold: Isi Naisarani – The newly minted Wallaby can always be relied on to top the carry stats for his side and is no slouch on defence, either.
Silver: Matt Phillip – Locks don’t come much more reliable than the internationally snubbed man from Melbourne. He picks up a lot of value in the lineouts but expect to see him cross the whitewash from time to time, too.
Bronze: Dane Haylett-Petty – the homeless man’s Ben Smith is still doing the rounds in Super Rugby and while he won’t be setting any records, he’s a guaranteed pair of safe hands at the back of it all.
Wildcard: Frank Lomani – Battling it out to replace Will Genia, this Fijian maestro has more than a few tricks up his sleeve if he gets the gig.
Gold: Jordan Petaia – With all the hype that surrounded him in 2019 it would be hard for him to exceed expectations, but if he achieves even half of what the Australian media seem to think he’s capable of, he’ll be a star.
Silver: Bryce Hegarty – An undercover fantasy gem, he regularly made it into the top-five scorers week to week last year and will be a cornerstone for your team.
Bronze: Taniela Tupou – The Tongan Thor is always hot property in fantasy due to his popular ‘Bull in a china shop’ routine. He’s added scrumming and tackling to his offerings and is getting better by the year.
Wildcard: Filipo Daugunu – Entering the season with a five-week ban, one week for each try he scored in the team’s last pre-season warm-up. May be out of favour with Brad Thorn as a result, but if he does start this year, you want him in your side.
Gold: Makazola Mapimpi – It’s hard to look past someone who literally scores tries for a living, especially after such a great year in 2019.
Silver: Curwin Bosch – Back in his preferred position of flyhalf, and with double the touches on the ball we can expect double the excitement. He is an up-and-down player, however, so treat with caution.
Bronze: Aphelele Fassi – Pace, agility, accuracy and power. The complete package.
Wildcard: Ox Nche – A ‘Beast’ of a different kind, but picking right up from where the great man left off.
Gold: Damian Willemse – Finally set for a full season in his preferred position, the human highlights reel will be operating behind a world-class pack and in tandem with an electric scrumhalf. Expect the most from him.
Silver: Dillyn Leyds – Unlucky to miss out on a place in the Bok squad last year, but he regularly features in the top stats lines for linebreaks and metres run. Will be working with elite halfbacks (see above and below) for the first time in his club career, so keep a firm eye on him.
Bronze: Herschel Jantjies – Went from strength to strength last year and is surrounded by weapons he can use to break games wide open.
Wildcard: Jaco Coetzee – I’m riding this hype train until it breaks down. The former SA Schools captain will be battling it out with former Junior Player of the Year Juarno Augustus, but based on 2019 performances he has the inside lane on the No 8 jersey.
Bronze: Ben Te’o – He used to be good, right?
Wildcard: Garth April – Look, if nothing else, he’s basically guaranteed to start every week. You could do much worse for a backup flyhalf in your squad.
Gold: Kurtley Beale – The only senior head in backline now, and while his role is fluid, currently it’s well established that he will perform wherever he’s placed.
Silver: Michael Hooper – Having been relieved of his club captaincy, the world’s most persistent opensider is set for a low-pressure season that could see him returning to his best playing form.
Bronze: Jack Maddocks – The rising star has returned home from Melbourne and while he has indicated his preference to try his hand at sevens, he should still walk into the starting team at either wing or fullback.
Wildcard: Mark Nawaqanitawase – As hyped up as he is unpronounceable, this young gun has impressed coaches and pundits alike, and could well be the strike power the Waratahs have been sorely lacking since Israel Folau’s ignoble fall from grace.
If you’re looking for a platform to test out these and other fantasy tips, look no further than the following competitive websites, each with their own unique take on Fantasy Rugby:
- Draft Rugby (www.draftrugby.com)
- Fantasy Rugby Draft (www.fantasyrugbydraft.com)
- The Rugby Magazine (www.therugbymagazine.com)
- Superbru (www.superbru.com)
The Elite Rugby Banter podcast is available on Soundcloud, iTunes and acast with weekly rugby content. The above Fantasy tips are not scientific, or possibly even logical, and neither ERB nor SA Rugby Mag can be held responsible for your final log position.