When it comes to picking the favourites to lead the South Africa conference the popular vote seems to be split between the Stormers and the Sharks.

The teams that contested in last year’s Currie Cup final appears to have the most depth compared to the other South African franchises with the Sharks also arguably offering the most balanced approach from all SA teams.

While the Bulls are more than capable of reaching the play-off’s, the mantel of SA’s best hope rest with the two coastal franchises.

Depth in Super Rugby is often overstated but there is no doubt that a competition that starts in February and ends in August will test any teams player resources.  And it is in this area where the Sharks will be tested from day one with the news that their star Springbok hooker and vice-captain, Bismarck du Plessis will only be fit to join the competition somewhere in April.

Du Plessis confirmed to the Rapport newspaper that although there is no set date for his return, the franchise has put this around mid-April.  This could be a potential banana-peal for the Banana-boys as they are known to start their campaigns rather slowly and build steam as the competition progress, but with their draw, a good start is essential for the Sharks.

They open their campaign with what is always a tricky feature away in Bloemfontein before they host the current SA conference champions, the Stormers, at home.  From there they will have three relatively easy fixtures (if there is such a thing) playing the new kids on the block the Kings in PE before hosting the Brumbies and the Rebels at home.

The Sharks will have to target a minimum 4 out of 5 wins before they head into a bye and then host the Crusaders in Durban by which time Bismarck could be back.

It is seldom that one man makes a team, but there is also little doubt that Du Plessis is currently one of the most dynamic hookers in world rugby whose contribution in the tight-loose is his biggest asset.  While the Sharks have able back-up’s in Craig Burden and Kyle Cooper as hookers, Bismarck’s ability to act as a 4th loose forward scavenging for the ball on the ground gives the team an edge in an area of the game (rucks) which often determines the outcome of matches.

The Stormers also sit with an interesting, if not tricky situation.  It has been reported that long-serving Stormers flyhalf, Peter Grant, might be available at the start of the campaign which will leave their coach Allister Coetzee with a difficult decision.  Elton Jantjies who enjoyed a stellar season in a poor team in Super Rugby 2012 is currently on loan to the Stormers through the fact that the Lions have been relegated for the 2013 competition.  Much has been said about how the talented youngster has been mucked around at Springbok level in 2012 and the last thing Coetzee wants to do is repeat this in 2013.

While Grant has been an able servant of Stormers rugby over the years, he has never been able to kick on or provide an edge to his play or ignite what has always been a very talented backline on paper.  Criticism of the Stormers’ play over the last 3 years was on their emphasis on defense (which has been the best of all teams for the last 2 years) at the expense of their ability to attack and score tries.  If there is one thing the Stormers can learn from the current Super Rugby champions, the Chiefs, is that balance in attack and defense is crucial if you have any hope to go beyond just reaching a play-off match.

The decisions and direction both the Stormers and the Sharks will take in the opening 5 weeks of this tournament will most likely determine which of them will end up South African conference winners and the team most likely to win the Super Rugby tournament.

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  1. Agreed.
    Cheetahs need to unleash Rolling Thunder early in season instead of rationing it throughout.
    2013 – Year of the Cheetahs

  2. The 5 loan players WP scored from the Lions are going to make a huge difference… Sharks/Bulls not looking that flash for ‘quality’ depth… Cheetahs look more bare than ever… and well the Kings…

    RSA conference the easiest this year by some way…

  3. Cant see the Bulls doing much this season. SO I certainly agree that it is just Sharks and Stormers and with both its essential to get a good start!!!

  4. I think it is important for the Super Rugby franchises to play and stick to combinations this year, especially at the 9 and 10 combinations.

    I want to see Jantjies in combination with Broome and either Sarel Pretorius or Van Zyl in combination with Johan Goosen and Mcleod or Reinach in combination with Lambie.

    That is the only way we will establish a new hald back pairing which is one of our weaknesses in the springbok camp.

    If Meyer can sort that out this year we will have taken a major step towards knowing which are our best combinations.

  5. I’m actually going to go out on a limb and reckon that we’re due a spanking for all sides this season.

    I don’t think we’ve had weaker sides since the days of Harry Lips Viljoen and Rudolph the Red Nosed 8thman in Super Rugby.

  6. The Stormers and the Sharks both have stronger squads this year than 2012.
    The Stormers finished 2nd on the overall log and the Sharks made the final.
    I hope both teams can improve on last year.
    The Bulls are not nearly as bad as some say and the Cheetahs will probably do
    the same as in previous years.

    The Kings is a different story though.

  7. Reply to Vetgesmeerde Blits @ 11:45 am:

    Bismarck is out for most the season… take away JDP and Beast their front row including hookers are average at best… outside of the untested PSDT they have no locks of note either… their centre situation is not much better either and without Freddy there’s not much at 9 either…

    Add the same dour head-coach… I disagree… Shark’s may be looking a chance in the RSA conference… but they are not strong at all…

  8. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 1:29 pm:

    Not convinced at all, I disagree.

    Bismarck is a huge blow, yes, but he is back by April.
    Beast missed a big part of their campaign last year with a broken ankle and they made the Super Rugby final with the same props standing in. Wiehan Herbst and Dale Chadwick is no worst than most other franchises back-up props.

    Frans Steyn only joined the Sharks after the first RC tests and was not allowed to play in the play-offs. With him there their centre situation is much better than last year.

    Ad Franco van der Merwe on loan from the Lions who in my view is better than Skeate and Sykes and Willem Alberts who has been a revelation when playing at nr 4 in the play-offs last year(he was prevered to Steven Sykes in the play-offs) then the lock situation is not nearly as bleak. Juandre Marais and his brother Peet is also very good young locks with enough experience to make the step up. And then there is PSDT and Bresler.

    Yes, Freddie is a big blow but Butch James is a very capable back-up at flyhalf and inside centre.

    Butch James (from Lions)
    Franco van der Merwe (on loan from Lions)

    Alistair Hargreaves (to Saracens)
    Frédéric Michalak (to Toulon)
    Ross Skeate (to Agen)
    Steven Sykes (to Kings)

    A very similar squad to last year and if they can play like they did in the second half of last years campaign there is no reason they cant make the semi final or final again.
    Definately one of the strongest squads in the RC.

    The other South African contender, the Stormers have a better squad than last year with Cilliers, Taute, Rhodes, Jantjies and Ruan Botha there. Ad Burger who missed out last year and they also have one of the best squads in the tournament.

  9. Reply to Vetgesmeerde Blits @ 2:09 pm:

    Is Frannie playing or not… haven’t seen his name anywhere?

    Forgot about Franco and Butch…

    Still look a wee bit bare in the T5… and it pains me to say as an ex WBHS boy… but Chadwick has not made the step-up and Herbst is a journeyman…

    If Alberts is at lock Kanko needs to start… but I digress… the good teams can rotate without losing too much…

    Team lucky they can do that twice against the Kings this year…

    Stormer’s got all the depth they need to take the conference and manage to get some rotation in…

  10. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 4:07 pm:
    Francois got injured last year, not sure when he will be back. Chadwick is not great but he is ok for a back up to Beast. Herbst is still young and is good in the scrums. It is a pity they lost Eugene van Staden, he was a very valuable prop to have on the bench and for rotation.

    I think they have enough loosies to rotate and play Alberts at lock. Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Jaques Botes and Jean Deysel are all good players at SR level. This should be Francois Kleynans breakout year and PSDT can be a very handy blindside as proven in the JWC.
    I do agree that the depth in the front row is not ideal, but apart from that a balanced squad imo.

  11. Every year the abundant player talent at the Sharks makes them one of the pre-season favorites. But the prognosticators are missing the most important names on the team sheet. That of the coaching staff. With no improvements here, we should expect the Sharks to, once again, sneak into the play-offs and fail.

    The Stormers will probably be top of the SA log again, and if they can stay healthy should finally win that home-semi.

    Reply to Vetgesmeerde Blits @11:45 am:
    The Stormers finished 1st on the over-all log.

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