PREVIEW: South Africa Conference

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While the Lions contested three consecutive finals between 2016-18, last year under the pools structure, the South American side, the Jaguares won the African pool.

 

Like all other sides the South Africans are not helped by the post-World Cup transfer of players to northern hemisphere teams.

 

Last season's best-performed African side, the Bulls, are typical of the situation. They go into a new campaign without key players like first five-eighths HandrΓ© Pollard, centre Jesse Kriel, No.8 Duane Vermeulen, locks Lood de Jager and RG Snyman and hooker Schalk Brits.

 

The Bulls are the only African side to have retained their coach Pote Human from last season while the Jaguares will also have Gonzalo Quesada back to mastermind their bid to go one better in 2020.

 

The Stormers are shaping up strong after retaining several key performers from the Springboks Rugby World Cup campaign and being boosted by the likes of former Wales star Jamie Roberts in the midfield.

Bulls

Home: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

Last year: 5th 

 

Bull coach Pote Human believes the Rugby World Cup success has resulted in renewed energy in South Africa.

 

"Everyone now wants to also play well and do well for the franchises, so we'll see what we can do. It won't be easy, but if we put in the hard work we'll see how we can get better," he said.

 

The Bulls suffered a setback two weeks out from the start when losing Test flanker Marco van Standen to concussion resulting from a blow in a warm-up game. He is expected to be out for six weeks.

 

On one point Human is definitely pleased and that is the quality he has available to him at first five-eighths, especially after losing Pollard. Morne Steyn is back from a stint at Stade Francais while rising star Manie Libbok has the ability to play first five and fullback. Regular fullback Warwick Gelant has an injury but it is not expected to impact his starting for the side in week one. Human said Libbok played with no fear and was a 'very talented player'.

 

Squad:

 

Forwards: Matthys Basson, Lizo Gqoboka, Wiehahn Herbst, Simpiwe Matanzima, Trevor Nyakane, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Madot Mabokela, Jaco Visagie, Johann Grobbelaar, Edgar Marutlulle, Corniel Els, Louis van der Westhuizen, Juandre Kruger, Ruan Nortje, Jean Drotste, Andries Ferreira, Adri Smith, Marius Verwey, Tim Agaba, Nick de Jager, Ruan Steenkamp, Muller Uys, Marco van Staden, Abongile Nonkontwana, Josh Strauss, Wian Vosloo, Jeandre Rudolph.

 

Backs: Embrose Papier, Ivan van Zyl, Theo Maree, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Manie Libbok, Morne Steyn, Marnitz Boshoff, David Coetzer, Chris Smith, Burger Odendaal, Dylan Sage, Johnny Kotze, Stedman Gans, Nafi Tuitavake, Franco Naude, Rosko Specman, Cornal Hendricks, Jade Stighling, Warrick Gelant, Divan Rossouw, Richard Kriel, Vaughen Isaacs.

 

IN: Gerhard Steenkamp, Louis van der Westhuizen, Andries Ferreira, Ian Goenewald, Juandre Kruger, Ruan Nortje, Ryno Pieterse, Abongile Nonkontwana, Josh Strauss, Wian Visloo, Jeandre Rudolph, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Morne Steyne, Franco Naude, Marnus Potgieter, Nafi Tuitavake, Richard Kriel

 

OUT: Conraad van Vuuren, Schalk Brits, Lood De Jager, Jason Jenkins, Eli Snyman, RG Snyman, Hendre Stassen, thembelani Bholi, Jannes Kirsten, Paul Schoeman, Roelof Smit, Hanro Liebenberg, Duane Vermeulen, Andre Warner, Handre Pollard, Chris Smith, JT Jackson, Jesse Kriel, Travis Ismaiel, Duncan Matthews

Jaguares

Home: Velez Sarsfield Stadium, Buenos Aires

Last year: 2nd 

 

Breaking the glass ceiling that had affected their placings in Super Rugby in earlier years, the Jaguares reached the final only to lose to the Crusaders last year and they are determined to go one better.

 

They are confident that one of their key losses last year, flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe will be compensated for by the advance of Francisco Gorrisen, a jumping flanker who can dominate the back of the lineout. Ortega Desio is expected to return to flanker with newcomer Juan Batista Pedemonte to make an impact at No.8.

 

Experience won't be lacking at first five-eighths with Juan Diaz Bonilla back, but high expectations are held for Domingo Miotti, regarded as a much more dangerous player than Bonilla. In the three-quarters, Matias Moroni is likely to have more opportunities with news that Gonzalo Quesada and Matias Orlando are likely to have delayed starts to the season. Moroni had to play on the wing to get game time last year but that is likely to change with the injuries and now that Santiago Carreras shapes as a permanent left wing with Bautista Delguy on the right.

 

Squad:

 

Forwards: Matias Alemanno, Rodrigo Bruni, Ignacio Calas, Agustin Creevy, Javier Diaz, Francisco Gorrissen, Santiago Grondona, Marcos Kremer, Tomas Lezana, Santiago Medrano, Santiago Montagner, Julian Montoya, Javier Ortega Desio, Lucas Paulos, Juan Bautista Pedemonte, Guido Petti, Joel Sclavi, Santiago Socino, Lucio Sordoni, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Mayco Vivas, Juan Pablo Zeiss

 

Backs: Tomas Albornoz, Gonzalo Bertranou, Emiliano Boffelli, Sebastian Cancelliere, Mateo Carreras, Santiago Carreras, Juan Pablo Castro, Santiago Chocobares, Tomas Cubelli, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Bautista Delguy, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Felipe Ezcurra, Juan Cruz Mallia, Lucas Mensa, Domingo Miotti, Matias Moroni, Matias Orlando, Joaquin Tuculet

 

IN: Joel Sdavi, Ignacio Calas, Santiago Montagner, Juan Bautista Pedemonte, tomas Albomoz, Juan Pablo Castro, Lucas Mensa, Mateo Carreras

 

OUT: Santiago Garcia Botta, Enrique Pieretto, Gaspar Baldunciel, Diego Fortuny, Tomas Lavanini, Franco Molina, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Pablo Matera, Martin Landajo, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Bautista Ezcurra, Ramiro Moyano, Ignacio Mendy

 

Lions

Home:Ellis Park, Johannesburg

Last year: 9th 

 

Having been on the end of some frustrating injury woes last season, the Lions have plenty of reason to believe that may be all behind them. But like other South African sides they have lost their fair share of experience and will have to make do without hooker Malcolm Marx, who is on a sabbatical in Japan, flanker Kwagga Smith and midfielder Lionel Mapoe among others.

 

One assured point of interest will be the return of prop Jannie du Plessis to the South African game after a stint overseas. He will ensure some welcome experience is on call up front.

 

Two key components missing will also be coach Swys de Bruin who decided not to continue in his role with the side while former skipper Warren Whiteley has been forced out through injury and will have a coaching role with the pack.

 

One player who will be worth watching, although aged 30, is wing Jamba Ulengo. He thought his rugby career was over when suffering a knee injury while playing for the Bulls. It was a year before it was finally sorted out by a Swedish doctor. He showed in a brief stint in his home area of Orange Free State in 2019 that he was fit again and the Lions came calling.

 

"I've got so much love and passion for the game and can't wait to see what I can do on the field again. I'm fully fit and healthy, the hunger is there, and I want to play the best I can play," he said,

 

Ulengo summed up the attitude surrounding the Lions when he said he felt they were a team who could bring the best out of him.

 

"I'm definitely excited about the type of rugby the Lions play. It suits me, as they like to run the ball more and I'm looking forward to that – to scoring tries again and getting the ball in space."

 

Squad:

 

Forwards: Jannie du Plessis, Keagen Glade, Johannes Jonker, Nathan McBeth, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Carlu Sadie, Sti Sithole, Dylan Smith, Frans van Wyk, Jan-Henning Campher, Pieter Jansen, Marko Jansen van Rensburg, Marvin Orie, Rhyno Herbst, Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruben Schoeman, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Ruan Vermaak, Cyle Brink, Hacjivah Dayimani, Len Massyn, Marnus Schoeman, Roelof Smit, Vincent Tshituka.

 

Backs: Ross Cronje, Dillon Smit, Andre Warner, Elton Jantjies, Gianni Lombard, James Mollentze, Shaun Reynolds, Tiaan Swanepoel, Dan Kriel, Duncan Matthews, Wandisile Simelane, Louritz van der Schyff, Mannie Rass, Stean Pienaar, Courtnal Skosan, Jamba Ulengo, Andries Coetzee, Tyrone Green.

 

IN: Jannie Du Plessis, Keagen Glade, Leo Kruger, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Roelof Smit, Francke Horn, Andrew Warner, James Mollentze, Dan Kriel, Duncan Matthews, Jamba Ulengo, Tiaan Swanepoel

 

OUT: Jacobie Adriaanse, Chergin Fillies, Danie Mienie, Robbie Coetzee, Malcolm Marx, Lourenz Erasmus, Robert Kruger, Stephan Lewies, Kwagga Smith, James Venter, Nic Groom, Lionel Mapoe, Franco Naude, Harold Vorster, Ruan Combrinck, Madosh Tambwe, Sylvian Mahuza

Sharks

Home: Kings Park, Durban

Last year: 6th 

 

Playoff participants in 2019, the Sharks have a tougher role ahead of them in 2020. Centre Lukhanyo Am has been named captain of the side, an automatic selection according to coach Sean Everitt, who had long been associated with Am's career.

 

Am said he wasn't looking to change too much and was sure there would be plenty to learn along the way with the help of his senior playing group.

 

That will be crucial as Everitt said: "In the past the Sharks have been spoken about as a team with a lack in leadership, so the decision was taken to grow the leadership within the squad."

 

Everitt has also hinted that the Sharks will look to make more use of their attacking qualities in the backline so players like Am, Makazole Mapimpi and S'bu Nkosi can strut their stuff. Fed by Curwin Bosch, who looks likely to get some overdue starting times at first five-eighths, the danger is obvious.

 

Where there is a concern for the side is in the pack and whether, after the departure of human cannon balls Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez, they can secure quality possession for the side. They have gained loosehead prop Ox Nche and loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe which will be something of a boost.

 

Squad:

Forwards: Thomas du Toit, Mzamo Majola, Khutha Nchunu, John-Hubert Meyer, Michael Kumbirai, Ox Nche, Juan Schoeman, Kerron van Vuuren, Fez Mbatha, Craig Burden, Dylan Richardson, Hyron Andrews, Andrew Evans, JJ van der Mescht, Ruben van Heerden, Jordan Sesink-Clee, Le Roux Roets, Phendulani Buthelezi, Kwanda Dimaza, Tera Mtembu, Tyler Paul, Luke Stringer, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, James Venter, Henco Venter, Evan Roos, Andisa Ntsila.

 

Backs: Louis Schreuder, Cameron Wright, Sanele Nohamba, Grant Williams, Curwin Bosch, Jordan Chait, Boeta Chamberlain, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw, Jeremy Ward, Andre Esterhuizen, JP Pietersen, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Lwazi Mvovo, Madosh Tambwe, Aphelele Fassi.

 

IN: Michael Kumbirai, Ox Nche, Jordan Sesink-Clee, Sikhumbuzo Nothe, James Venter, Henco Venter, Jordan Chait, Werner Kok, Madosh Tambwe

 

OUT: Tendai Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Cullen Collopy, Akker van der Merwe, Ruan Botha, Gideon Koegelenberg, Jean-Luc du Preez, Jacques Vermeulen, Dan du Preez, Philip van der Walt, Robert du Preeez, Andre Esterhuizen, Kobus van Wyk, Rhyno Smith, Courtney Winnaar

 

Stormers

 

Home: Newlands, Cape Town

Last year: 10th 

 

If any South African side is capable of benefitting from the World Cup success it is surely the Stormers. They've got seven players who were significant contributors to the Japanese success and they are spread all over the field, starting with captain and flanker Siya Kolisi.

 

Fellow loose forward Pieter-Steph du Toit is World Rugby's player of the year, prop Steven Kitshoff has fashioned an outstanding reputation internationally while the inside back pairing of Herschel Jantjies, at halfback, and Damian Willemse, at first five-eighths, are potential trouble makers for all sides they face.

 

And in another boost for the side, former Wales and British and Irish Lions midfielder Jamie Roberts has joined the squad for the season.

 

Kolisi has made no bones about his demands for the side.

 

"We need to have the same attitude as [the Springboks] had [at the World Cup]. I've never won a title here, and that's my drive. The nice thing now is that we are at home for half of the time, and we enjoy each other's company, which is also why we were successful [at the World Cup].

 

"That's the same drive that Dobbo [coach John Dobson] wants here – that the Stormers are the most important thing, and the people supporting us," he said.

 

Finding the mix between using the solid core the side has up front and letting their backs loose would be the key for a Stormers drive for the title.

 

"We've got to make sure that we know what our strong points are, and the most important thing is to win games – it doesn't matter how ugly it is. We want to play rugby that people want to watch, but we want to be smart about it at the same time," he said.

 

Squad:

 

Forwards: Kwenzo Blose, Neethling Fouche, Steven Kitshoff, Wilco Louw, Leon Lyons, Frans Malherbe, Ali Vermaak, Sazi Sandi, Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni, Ramone Samuels, Chad Solomon, Dan Jooste, Schalk Erasmus, D Schickerling, Salmaan Moerat, Ernst van Rhyn, Chris van Zyl, David Meihuizen, Ben-Jason Dixon, Siya Kolisi, Cobus Wiese, Johan du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Nama Xaba, Juarno Augustus, Jaco Coetzee.

 

Backs: Herschel Jantjies, Jano Vermaak, Justin Phillips, Paul de Wet, Godlen Masimla, Damian Willemse, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Abner van Reenen, Dan du Plessis, Ruhan Nel, Rikus Pretorius, Matt Moore, Michal Haznar, Lyle Hendricks, Cornel Smit, Sergeal Petersen, Seabelo Senatla, Edwill van der Merwe, Sihle Njezula, Dillyn Leyds, Leolin Zas, David Kriel.

 

IN: Leon Lyons, Ben-Jason Dixon, Sihle Njezula, Jamie Roberts

 

OUT: Corne Fourie, Michael Kumbirai, Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, Eben Etzebeth, Chris Maassyn, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Marno Redelinghuys, Kobus van Dyk, Joshua Stander, Damian de Allende, JJ Engelbrecht, Dan Kriel, Duncan Saal, Craig Barry, SP Maraik, FWViljoen

 

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