The SA Rugby magazine team identify what they would love to see come out of round 18 of Vodacom Super Rugby.
Craig Lewis (senior writer) hopes to see two high-quality local derbies.
Is that too much to ask? I hope not!
Honestly, it’s difficult to build up too much hope or excitement ahead of the playoffs when it comes to the prospects of the South African sides. The Jaguares have already sewn up SA conference honours, and it’s really only the Vodacom Bulls – who have been this season’s surprise package – who can be seen as truly deserving of a place in the knockout stage.
For me, and undoubtedly for many others, it seems ridiculous that it takes 18 rounds of competition to only reduce 15 teams to a final eight in an expanded knockout phase that has always rewarded mediocrity rather than excellence in the current convoluted tournament format.
With this in mind, and with no South African side looking truly capable of claiming the title, it would just be rewarding to see the Bulls and Lions, and Sharks and Stormers produce two high-quality derbies that remind us there is something to be positive about in a World Cup year.
Jon Cardinelli (chief writer) wants Elton Jantjies to produce an accurate and composed performance under pressure.
The Springboks need two or three excellent flyhalf options going into the World Cup. Handré Pollard has found form with the Vodacom Bulls this season, and looks set to retain the No 10 jersey in the big Tests later this year. Elton Jantjies, however, has blown hot and cold.
The coming derby at Loftus Versfeld promises to be one to savour. The winner will advance to the playoffs, while the loser will exit the tournament.
The battle between the No 10s should be utterly absorbing, as the Bok incumbent takes on the pretender to the crown.
The best outcome for the Boks is an accurate and composed performance by both players. Jantjies, who has often faltered in big matches, has much to prove.
After all, if Pollard breaks down before the World Cup, the responsibility to clinch tight matches will fall to Jantjies.
Over to you, Elton…
Mariette Adams (staff writer) hopes there are no new injury concerns to either Springbok incumbents or contenders.
As we reach the home stretch of yet another gruelling Super Rugby season, we are witnessing first-hand how the strenuous schedule and taxing travel demands of this ill-structured competition are taking its toll on players’ bodies, and unfortunately the South African franchises have been dealt more body blows than their New Zealand, Australian and Argentinian counterparts.
Springboks Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Damian Willemse, Siya Kolisi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Jean-Luc du Preez, Kwagga Smith, Lood de Jager, Curwin Bosch, Warren Whiteley, Travis Ismaiel, Akker van der Merwe, Jesse Kriel, Schalk Brits and Marco van Staden are all currently crocked and ineligible for selection as a result.
In addition, other capped internationals, Duane Vermeulen, Beast Mtawarira, Warrick Gelant and Handré Pollard, as well as Blitzbok Rosko Specman and Sharks scrumhalf Cameron Wright have only recently recovered and returned from their respectively injury layoffs.
Add to that injury list the names of star performers Herschel Jantjies, Philip van der Walt, Ryan Botha, Stephan Lewis and Sti Sithole as well as Craig Burden, and the local Super Rugby landscape looks more like a minefield.
The nature of South Africa derbies have always been brute physicality mixed with minimal flair and finesse. But for once – as the Stormers, Sharks, Bulls and Lions prepare for one last go at each other in two crucial derbies on Saturday – I wish that blueprint doesn’t come at a cost. Not one of those teams can afford to lose any more players, and in a greater context, neither can the Springboks, not with the shortened Rugby Championship and the highly anticipated World Cup looming.
I am praying to every deity I can think of that all South African players come through this final week of round-robin fixtures unscathed.
Dylan Jack (junior staff writer) hopes Warrick Gelant provides a reminder of his abilities.
It has been another stop-start campaign for the Bulls fullback, who had his 2018 season halted by a bad shoulder injury, which kept him out for the latter stages of last year.
While he was spoken of as a player who could provide a different dimension for the Springboks, the 24-year-old faces a massive battle for that No 15 jersey, with both Cheslin Kolbe and Damian Willemse looking likely to be included at this stage.
Back in the Bulls starting lineup after overcoming his latest injury worry – a hamstring strain suffered in training during the Australasian tour – Gelant has the opportunity over the next two games to show once again why he is considered one of the best fullbacks in the country.
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