JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the Super Rugby clashes at Newlands and Ellis Park in round one.
The Super Rugby tournament has undergone significant changes since last season. Fifteen teams will compete across three conferences in 2018, rather than the 18 sides that featured across four conferences in 2017.
Two sides, namely the Cheetahs and Kings, have been cut from the South African roster. The Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, as well as the Jaguares, will compete in one South African conference.
The tournament commences on Saturday with two South African conference derbies.
STORMERS vs JAGUARES, CAPE TOWN, SATURDAY 15:05
The Stormers have suffered a series of injury setbacks in the lead-up to the 2018 Super Rugby tournament. Springbok lock Pieter-Steph du Toit won’t play against the Jaguares. Other Boks like Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, and Jano Vermaak, as well as SP Marais, Scarra Ntubeni, Ali Vermaak, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Dan du Plessis and Juarno Augustus won’t be considered for the game on Saturday or the subsequent tour to Australasia.
Robbie Fleck’s side copped three big defeats in New Zealand last year. A depleted Stormers outfit may be hard-pressed to improve on those results when they face the Waratahs, Crusaders (the 2017 champions) and Highlanders in the coming weeks.
Given the challenge that lies ahead, it’s fair to say that the Stormers cannot afford to lose to the Jaguares this Saturday.
The Jaguares are coming off a pre-season loss to the Bulls. That match may have provided the Argentinian side with a good opportunity to gel and acclimatise to South African conditions. While they’ve battled for consistency over the past two years, they have surprised a few sides with their abrasive approach at the breakdown and have forced some big upsets.
The Stormers pack has to fire as a unit from the outset. The Jaguares struggled at the set pieces last year, ranking 17th in the tournament for scrum success and 14th for lineout success. It remains to be seen if they have made improvements in those areas.
The Stormers played a more adventurous brand of rugby in 2017. The stats suggest that the drive to play more attacking rugby may have compromised their defence, though.
The Cape side scored 64 tries and conceded 61 across the conference stage. Only the Sunwolves, Rebels, Cheetahs and Waratahs leaked more.
Despite their losses in personnel, the Stormers must look to make a statement on defence as well as on attack this Saturday. They need to build up some form and confidence before they travel Down Under for the more testing examinations against the Waratahs, Crusaders and Highlanders.
Stats and facts
o The Stormers have won each of their two previous clashes with the Jaguares, though the Argentinian squad has picked up a losing bonus point on each occasion.
o The Stormers have won their season opener in six of the last eight Super Rugby campaigns, including each of the last three.
o The Jaguares have lost their last four games in South Africa, though they’ve picked up a losing bonus point in three of those defeats.
o The Jaguares were the most penalised team in the competition last season, conceding an average of 11.5 penalties per game.
Stormers – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 George Whitehead, 23 JJ Engelbrecht.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertanou, 8 Tomas Lezana, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera (c), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Felipe Arregui.
LIONS vs SHARKS, JOHANNESBURG, SATURDAY, 17:15
The 2018 season will be an important one for both teams. The Lions should be looking to win the tournament after falling at the final hurdle in 2016 and 2017. The Sharks should be out to prove that they are genuine title contenders. The Durban-based franchise has not won a Super Rugby playoff since 2014.
Robert du Preez’s side could make a massive statement by beating the Lions, the South African conference title favourites and indeed one of the tournament title favourites. A strong performance and a rare win in Johannesburg would provide the Sharks’ campaign with plenty of impetus.
Du Preez has made some interesting selections ahead of one of the biggest derbies in the conference stage, though. New recruits like Makazole Mapimpi (from the Cheetahs) and Rob du Preez (Stormers) have been included in the starting side, as expected. There’s been a lot of talk about Lwazi Mvovo playing more at fullback this season, and Thomas du Toit moving to tighthead.
What has been surprising to see, however, is Du Preez selecting Boks like Beast Mtawarira, Curwin Bosch and Dan du Preez on the bench. Perhaps the coach has noted that the Lions were the best performing side in the fourth quarter last season, scoring 32 of their 92 tries during this period and conceding only five in the same timeframe. Perhaps Du Preez feels that he will need some quality on the bench to combat that challenge at the death.
That said, the Sharks would do well to live with the Lions at the scrums and lineouts over the course of the 80 minutes. Only the Hurricanes (42) scored more tries than the Lions (37) from first phase in 2017. The Lions and the Brumbies (13) conceded the fewest tries from the set pieces. The Johannesburg-based side certainly knows how to set a dominant platform, be it on attack or defence.
The Lions were particularly potent from the lineout. Their maul may prove difficult to stop once again this Saturday, and the Sharks locks will have an important job to do on defence.
The Sharks may also battle to live with the Lions loose forwards, and SA Rugby Player of the Year Malcolm Marx, at the breakdown. And if the visitors transgress in this area, Lions goal-kicker Elton Jantjies – the 2017 tournament’s top point-scorer – will make them pay.
Stats and facts
o The Lions have won their last six games on the bounce against the Sharks; they had picked up just two wins in their 13 prior meetings.
o The Lions have won four of their last five season openers, though only one of those games saw the home side on the day triumph.
o The Sharks enter this game on the back of a three-game losing streak, the last time they lost more in succession was a six-game drought in April-May 2015.
o Elton Jantjies is set to line up for his 100th Super Rugby appearance; the Lions playmaker has scored 67 points in his last six games against the Sharks.
o Philip van der Walt made 170 tackles in Super Rugby last year, more than any other player, missing just six further attempts.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (c), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Beast Mtawarira, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Dan du Preez, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/Backpagepix