The latest edition of the Vodacom Super Rugby competition kicks off in Johannesburg on Friday where the Emirates Lions will take on the visiting Hurricanes from New Zealand, but most attention should be on Durban and Pretoria come Saturday.
Local derbies tend to get the juices flowing in the early stages of the rugby year and with two high-calibre clashes between the Cell C Sharks and Toyota Cheetahs and Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers respectively, a massive opening Saturday awaits.
This year will again see five South African franchises in action and all will be keen to add their names to the coveted title. The Vodacom Bulls (2007, 2009, and 2010) are the only South African side who has managed to win this sought-after crown, played by the best franchise teams from SA, New Zealand and Australia.
Governing body SANZAR, in conjunction with Opta Sports, has provided match packs to serve as an additional media resource, each containing useful statistics, anecdotes, trends and historical information pertaining to the coming round of Super Rugby fixtures
Emirates Lions v Hurricanes
It will be a classic clash of styles when the Emirates Lions host the Hurricanes in the newly-named Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Friday. This match will start the local Vodacom Super Rugby season and looking at the history of the teams in recent times, could easily be a clash of contracting styles.
The home side had the best discipline in the 2014 competition and only conceded 9.6 penalties per game (Stats provided by Opta). They also won 91% of scrums on their own feed and will no doubt look to dominate in that area again. Starving the Hurricanes of possession seems to be the trick in beating them. It will not be easy as the men in yellow and black in 2014 averaged more possession per game than any other and managed to beat more defenders than anyone else.
The visitors have the knowledge that they have done well against the Lions in the last couple of seasons. They won the last five matches between the sides, but will be aware that the home side finished the season with three straight wins last year.
The Lions will find motivation in the fact that the Hurricanes does not seem to start well, or travel well. The Wellington-based side has lost their opening fixture in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 and has lost five of their last seven outings in South Africa.
New Hurricanes coach, Chris Boyd, lost All Black lock Jeremy Thrush to injury and has named Mark Abbott as his replacement.
Lions coach, Johann Ackermann, included debutant Malcolm Marx in his starting pack, a clear indication that he plans to take the game to the visitors up front. Marx is a big and abrasive hooker and at 1.88m and 119kg the Junior Springbok will bring even more physical grunt to the Lions.
The rest of the team is tried and tested, something Ackermann is pleased about. “The core of the side is there, and it is nice to have that balance, knowing that there are guys going into their second Super Rugby campaign together. There was stiff competition in all positions,” he said.
The teams are:
Emirates Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Howard Mnisi, Courtnall Skosan, Marnitz Boshoff, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley (c), Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Martin Muller, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Schalk van der Merwe. Replacements: Armand van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Jacques Van Rooyen, Robert Kruger, Warwick Tecklenburg, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Stokkies Hanekom.
Hurricanes: Jason Woodward, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Reynold Lee-Lo, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, James Broadhurst, Mark Abbott, Jeff Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Replacements: Brayden Mitchell, Reg Goodes, Chris Eves, Callum Gibbins, Victor Vito, Chris Smylie, James Marshall, Matt Proctor.
Emirates Lions vital statistics (since 2006):
P 7 W 1 L 6
Points scored: 163
Points conceded: 213
Tries scored: 17
Tries conceded: 26
Average score: 23-30
Date: Friday, 13 February
SA Time: 19h10
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Pro Legoete (South Africa)
Television match officials: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Cell C Sharks v Toyota Cheetahs
The local derbies kick off at Growthpoint King’s Park in Durban on Saturday afternoon where the Cell C Sharks, with new Director of Rugby Gary Gold in charge for the first time since his move from Japan, will host the Toyota Cheetahs. The home crowd will be keen to see their team go all the way this year, after a number of close calls in the past.
This will be an interesting match-up, with the visitors an unpredictable and dangerous side if the mood strikes them. The Sharks know this well, as the Cheetahs managed to register wins in Durban before. In fact, the Cheetahs have won three times from seven visits, but will find the going tough. They last won their opening match in the tournament in 2007 and failed to register an opening weekend win since.
The Sharks have won their last two season-openers and have beaten the Cheetahs in the opening weekends in 2011 and 2013.
Visiting coach Naka Drotske has lost a number of stalwarts since the completion of last year’s competition and much of his success will depend on the attacking thrust from his back three, where Springboks Willie le Roux and Cornal Hendricks and Springbok tourist Raymond Rhule pose a serious threat. The coach decided to include former Springbok Sevens stepper Clayton Blommetjies on the wing and play Hendricks off the bench as he picked a team ‘suited for the expected coastal conditions’.
He also handed former Stormers midfielder, Mikey van der Spuy a first start for the Bloemfontein side and lock Francois Uys the captain’s armband.
Gold named former Sharks player Waylon Murray at outside centre and included new recruits Renaldo Bothma and Mouritz Botha in the pack. Bismarck du Plessis will again lead the team packed with international experience.
“For me, the Cheetahs are one of the most dangerous sides to play against and on their day they have the ability to beat any team,” explained Gold.
“Our guys have prepared well for the tournament and there is a fantastic spirit in the camp. We want to play an exciting brand of rugby that our fans demand, and score tries. The only way to win matches is to score tries and to do that you need to keep the ball in hand. Our players are determined and will give nothing less than 100% effort on the park.”
The teams for the Durban clash are:
Cell C Sharks: SP Marais, S’bura Sithole, Waylon Murray, Heimar Williams, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Tera Mtembu, Renaldo Bothma, Marcell Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Mouritz Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (c), Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Matt Stevens, Marco Wentzel, Jean Deysel, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga, Odwa Ndungane.
Toyota Cheetahs: Willie le Roux, Clayton Blommetjies, Francois Venter, Michael van der Spuy, Raymond Rhule, Joe Petersen, Sarel Pretorius, Willie Britz, Oupa Mohoje, Jean Cook, Francois Uys (c), Lood de Jager, Coenie Oosthuizen, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Danie Minnie. Replacements: Stephan Coetzee, BG Uys, Maks van Dyk, Carl Wegner, Boom Prinsloo, Tian Meyer, Willie du Plessis, Cornal Hendricks
Vital statistics (since 2006):
P 13 Cell C Sharks won 8; Toyota Cheetahs won 5
Cell C Sharks points scored: 304
Toyota Cheetahs points scored: 242
Cell C Sharks tries scored: 29
Toyota Cheetahs tries scored: 25
Average score: 23-19 to the Cell C Sharks
Date: Saturday, 14 February
SA Time: 17h05
Venue: Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
Television match officials: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Vodacom Bulls v DHL Stormers
The North versus South derbies remain some the most anticipated clashes on the local Vodacom Super Rugby calendar and the late Saturday clash between the Vodacom Bulls and the visiting DHL Stormers will be no different.
The Stormers will be well aware of past visits to Loftus Versfeld and the stranglehold the Bulls have on them at this venue. The home side has lost only one of their last 19 matches at home and in 2014 they were unbeaten in Pretoria. The Stormers lost seven of eight away last year and lost their opening matches in 2013 and 2014.
That said, the visitors will be boosted by the fact that they won last year’s Absa Currie Cup in exciting fashion, playing a different kind of rugby than in Super Rugby, where they only scored 18.1 points per match, the lowest in the competition.
The Stormers will back their defence to keep their try-line intact and they could well succeed in doing so if the Bulls do not cure their try-scoring blues. The home side only scored 1.8 tries per match in 2014, fewer than any other team.
Victor Matfield, the most experienced South African in the competition (138 matches) and most experienced captain ever (82), will be looking at forcing the visitors into a forward-dominated game.
The Bulls had the best line-out rate in 2014 (91%) and the Stormers just 78%, so they will look to dominate that phase again. The visitors also face another potential obstacle in flyhalf Handrè Pollard, who kicked 26 out of 28 shots (93%) at goal last year, the best rate of the season.
Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke included all three off-season recruits, former Toyota Cheetahs hooker, Adriaan Strauss, prop Trevor Nyakane and flanker Lappies Labuschagne in the starting line-up. Ludeke also included Arno Botha at number eight, the first time the loose forward will play Super Rugby since June 1st, 2013.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee named three Springboks and six DHL Stormers debutants in their match day squad. Wings Johnny Kotze and Dillyn Leyds and also tighthead prop Vincent Koch are the new faces in the run-on side, with the new faces on the bench being Bongi Mbonambi (former Bulls hooker), tighthead prop Wilco Louw and outside back Huw Jones.
New skipper Duane Vermeulen will lead the team from the No.8 position in a match which Coetzee has described as a “tough assignment” and a “great challenge”.
“We’re looking forward to getting our campaign underway after a good pre-season and, as everyone knows, there’s no greater challenge than facing the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld – be it your first game or your last game of the season. It is (a tough assignment), but it’s been done before.”
The teams are:
Vodacom Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Francois Hougaard, Handrè Pollard, Piet van Zyl, Arno Botha, Lappies Labuschagne, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield (c), Jacques du Plessis, Werner Kruger, Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Mornè Mellet, Dayan van der Westhuizen/Neethling Fouchè, Grant Hattingh, Pierre Spies, Rudy Paige, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Jesse Kriel.
DHL Stormers: Cheslin Kolbe, Johnny Kotze, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Dillyn Leyds, Demetri Catrakilis, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen (c), Michael Rhodes, Rynhardt Elstadt, Ruan Botha, Jean Kleyn, Vincent Koch, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Oli Kebble, Wilco Louw, Jurie van Vuuren, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Kurt Coleman, Huw Jones
Vital statistics (since 1998):
Played 22 Vodacom Bulls won 9; DHL Stormers won 12; one draw
Vodacom Bulls points scored: 502
DHL Stormers points scored: 476
Vodacom Bulls tries scored: 47
DHL Stormers tries scored: 44
Average score: 23-22 to the Vodacom Bulls
Date: Saturday, 14 February
SA Time: 19h10
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Stephan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
Television match officials: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Other fixtures (SA kick-off times):
Friday, 13 February:
08h35: Crusaders v Rebels – Christchurch
10h40: Brumbies v Reds – Canberra
Saturday, 14 February:
08h35: Blues v Chiefs – Auckland
Sunday, 15 February:
07h05: Waratahs v Force – Sydney