The following is a preview of the South African Conference for the 2014 Super Rugby season. The South African conference was disrupted by injuries last season, yet the conference accumulated only one fewer point than New Zealand. If you throw out the performance of each conference’s weakest team, the South African conference actually outscored New Zealand. There has been plenty of player turnover during the off-season, with the Stormers and Bulls in particular losing numerous key players.
For the second year, a two-leg promotion/relegation play-off will be played at the end of the season between the bottom team in the South African Conference and the Southern Kings, who were relegated out of Super Rugby last year. The winner will qualify for Super Rugby in 2015.
Futures Market Tip
Back the Sharks to win the title (8.00 with bet365 at the time of writing). Their performance last year was impacted by a heavy injury toll. With little player turnover during the off-season, Jake White as their new head coach and four home games plus a bye in the opening five rounds, they should get off to a strong start, which will enable you to lay them with Betfair later at lower odds. If you want to hold out longer before laying, the Sharks won’t depart South Africa until Round 12.
Below are team-by-team previews for 2014. These details will be updated as more information becomes available.
Note: all new and departed players lists are sourced from Wikipedia.
- Futures Market Odds:
- 2012 Season: 2nd in the South African conference, 5th overall. Lost in the Qualifying Finals.
- 2013 Season: 1st in South African conference, 2nd overall. Lost in the Semi-finals
- New Players: Marcel van der Merwe (Blue Bulls), Bandise Maku (Kings), Bongi Mbonambi (Blue Bulls), David Bulbring (Kings), Wiaan Liebenberg (Blue Bulls), Jacques Engelbrecht (Kings), Piet van Zyl (Cheetahs), Handré Pollard (Blue Bulls), Jacques-Louis Potgieter (France), Waylon Murray (Kings), William Small-Smith (Blue Bulls), Travis Ismaiel (Blue Bulls), Ryan Nell (Western Province), Clayton Blommetjies (Blue Bulls), Jesse Kriel (Blue Bulls)
- Departed Players: Hencus van Wyk (Blue Bulls), Chiliboy Ralepelle (France), Willie Wepener (Lions), Juandré Kruger (France), Wilhelm Steenkamp (Western Australia), Dewald Potgieter (Japan), Jacques Potgieter (Waratahs), Jean Cook (Cheetahs), Jano Vermaak (France), Morné Steyn (France), Wynand Olivier (France), Francois Venter (Cheetahs), Lionel Mapoe (Lions), Zane Kirchner (Ireland)
- Current Squad (37-man training squad announced 14 Dec):
Forwards: Victor Matfield, Morne Mellett, Dean Greyling, Frik Kirsten, Werner Kruger, Marcel van der Merwe, Callie Visagie, Bandise Maku, Bongi Mbonambi, Flip van der Merwe, Paul Willemse, Grant Hattingh, David Bulbring, Deon Stegman, Wiaan Liebenberg, Arno Botha, Jacques Engelbrecht, Jacques du Plessis, Pierre Spies, Jono Ross
Backs: Francois Hougaard, Piet van Zyl, Rudy Paige, Louis Fouche, Handre Pollard, Jan Serfontein, Waylon Murray, JJ Engelbrecht, William Small-Smith, Bjorn Basson, Akona Ndungane, Sampie Mastriet, Travis Ismaiel, Jurgen Visser, Jesse Kriel, Clayton Blommetjies, Ryan Nell, Ulrich Beyers
- Injury Concerns: loose forward Arno Botha will likely miss the entire season after injuring his ACL pre-season. Marvin Orie is still recovering from a leg fracture and will miss the first few rounds of the competition. Morne Mellett will miss the start of the season due to a back injury. Jesse Kriel is also out for the start of the campaign due to a calf injury.
- Comments: with fifteen new squad members for 2014, the Bulls are very much in a rebuilding phase this year. The most notable departure is Morné Steyn. The depth of South African rugby will be tested this year, with nine of the new squad members coming from Currie Cup teams. The Bulls will welcome the experience of former Springbok captain Victor Matfield, who returns after a two-year hiatus. Losing Botha to a pre-season injury is a blow to their title chances.
- 2014 Prediction:: given the injury toll and high turnover during the off-season, the Bulls will struggle early on in the season, which could dent their playoff chances. I expect them to finish 3rd or 4th in the South African conference.
- Futures Market Odds:
- 2012 Season: 4th in the South African conference, 10th overall.
- 2013 Season: 2nd in the South African conference, 4th overall. Lost in the Qualifying Finals.
- New Players: Maks van Dyk (Natal Sharks), Torsten van Jaarsveld (Free State Cheetahs), Hilton Lobberts (Griquas), Carel Greeff (Griquas), Oupa Mohoje (Free State Cheetahs), Jean Cook (Bulls), Inus Kritzinger (Griffons), Kevin Luiters (Free State Cheetahs), Shaun Venter (Kings), Piet Lindeque (Sharks), Francois Venter (Bulls), Cornal Hendricks (RSA Sevens)
- Departed Players: Lourens Adriaanse (Sharks), Waltie Vermeulen (Free State Cheetahs), Frans Viljoen (France), Tewis de Bruyn (retired), Piet van Zyl (Bulls), Francois Brummer (Free State Cheetahs), Burton Francis (France), Robert Ebersohn (France), Barry Geel (Rustenburg Impala)
- Current Squad: Rossouw de Klerk, Trevor Nyakane, Caylib Oosthuizen, Coenie Oosthuizen, Nick Schonert, Maks van Dyk, Ryno Barnes, Martin Bezuidenhout, Hercú Liebenberg, Adriaan Strauss, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Lood de Jager, Andries Ferreira, Ligtoring Landman, Hilton Lobberts, Boela Serfontein, Francois Uys, Heinrich Brüssow, Carel Greeff, Lappies Labuschagné, Oupa Mohoje, Boom Prinsloo, Philip van der Walt, Jean Cook, Kevin Luiters, Tian Meyer, Sarel Pretorius, Shaun Venter, Francois Brummer, Johan Goosen, Riaan Smit, Elgar Watts, Piet Lindeque, Howard Mnisi, Johann Sadie, Francois Venter, Rayno Benjamin, Cornal Hendricks, Rocco Jansen, Willie le Roux, Raymond Rhule, Hennie Daniller, Gouws Prinsloo
- Injury Concerns: Heinrich Brussow will miss the first six weeks due to a toe injury
- Comments: the Cheetahs surprised everyone by making the playoffs last season, as they were rewarded for playing an expansive game that is atypical of a South African team. The Cheetahs have had a large turnover of players during the off-season, so it’s hard to gauge how they will fare in 2014. They will be hoping talisman Goosen can stay fit after a couple of injury-hit seasons. They will miss Brussow for the start of the season, however Boom Prinsloo is a handy replacement. He enjoyed a strong Currie Cup campaign and has impressed in pre-season.
- 2014 Prediction:: the Cheetahs need more squad depth if they are to challenge for top spot in the conference. I expect the Cheetahs to finish 3rd or 4th in the South African conference.
- Futures Market Odds:
- 2012 Season: 5th in the South African conference, 15th overall. Relegated out of Super Rugby.
- 2013 Season: did not participate in Super Rugby. Were promoted back into the league at the expense of the Kings.
- Returning Players: Franco van der Merwe (Sharks), Derick Minnie (Sharks), Elton Jantjies (Stormers), Lionel Mapoe (Bulls), Andries Coetzee (Sharks)
- New Players: Corne Fourie (on loan from Pumas), Schalk van der Merwe (Free State Cheetahs), Willie Wepener (Bulls), MB Lusaseni (Leopards), Thabo Mamojele (Kings), Ricky Schroeder (Boland Cavaliers), Willie du Plessis (Free State Cheetahs), Courtnall Skosan (Blue Bulls)
- Departed Players: N/A
- Current Squad (announced 11 Feb): Michael Bondesio, Marnitz Boshoff, Chrysander Botha, Willie Britz, Andries Coetzee, Robbie Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Francois de Klerk, Ruan Dreyer, Corne Fourie, Deon Helberg, Alwyn Hollenbach, Elton Jantjies, JW Jonker, Jaco Kriel, Luvuyiso Lusaseni, Lionel Mapoe, Malcolm Marx, Derick Minnie, Franco Mostert, Martin Muller, Julian Redelinghuys, Courtnall Skosan, Warwick Tecklenburg, Franco van der Merwe, Schalk van der Merwe, Deon van Rensburg, Jacques van Rooyen, Coenie van Wyk, Anthony Volmink, Stefan Watermeyer, Willie Wepener, Warren Whiteley (captain)
- Injury Concerns: fullback Andries Coetzee will miss the first five rounds or so due to a pre-season knee injury. Lock Rudi Mathee is out for seven weeks with a fractured arm. Elton Jantjies, Anthony Volmink and Ruan Dreyer are recovering from shoulder injuries, but should return soon.
- Comments: on paper the Lions are the weakest side in the South African conference. It will be especially tough for them given they sat out the 2013 Super Rugby Season. In their favour is the fact that they won’t leave South Africa until Round 12, so they will have plenty of rugby under their belts before their overseas tour. The Lions do have some handy players in the squad so I expect them to fare better than the Kings, however they badly lack depth. They fielded fringe players against the Sharks pre-season and were absolutely slaughtered, so the side will suffer badly if key players pick up knocks. The Lions made plenty of errors in pre-season hit outs and have plenty of work to do if they are to avoid the end of season promotion/relegation playoff.
- 2014 Prediction:: given the lack of squad depth and the injury list to start the season, I expect the Lions to come 5th in the South African conference and possibly collect the competition’s wooden spoon
- Futures Market Odds:
- 2012 Season: 3rd in the South African conference, 6th overall. Lost in the Grand Final.
- 2013 Season: 4th in the South African conference, 8th overall.
- New Players: Lourens Adriaanse (Cheetahs), Etienne Oosthuizen (Brumbies), Marco Wentzel (UK), SP Marais (Kings)
- Departed Players: JC Janse van Rensburg (France), Craig Burden (France), Jandré Marais (France), Franco van der Merwe (Lions), Derick Minnie (Lions), Butch James (retired), Meyer Bosman (France), Piet Lindeque (Cheetahs), Andries Coetzee (Lions), Louis Ludik (France), Riaan Viljoen (Japan),
- Current Squad: (announced 11 Feb) Lourens Adriaanse, Willem Alberts, Jacques Botes, Anton Bresler, Dale Chadwick, Marcell Coetzee, Kyle Cooper, Tonderai Chavhanga, Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel, Bismarck du Plessis (captain), Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Thomas du Toit, Andre Esterhuizen, Tyler Fisher, Hansie Graaf, Monde Hadebe, Paul Jordaan, Ryan Kankowski, Patrick Lambie, Stephan Lewies, Peet Marais, SP Marais, Charl McLeod, Tendai Mtawarira, Tera Mtembu, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, Etienne Oosthuizen, JP Pietersen, Cobus Reinach, S’bura Sithole, Francois Steyn, Tim Swiel, Stefan Ungerer, Jaco van Tonder, Heimar Williams, Fred Zeilinga
- Injury Concerns: JP Pietersen is still in Japan and will miss the start of the season
- Comments: the Sharks on paper are South Africa’s strongest franchise this season, with 15 Springboks in the 39-man squad. They welcome the appointment of Jake White as head coach after he left the Brumbies last year. White is a shrewd operator and with relatively little turnover (by this season’s standards) I expect the Sharks to be a strong contender for the title this year.
- 2014 Prediction:: the Sharks carry decent momentum into this season, with the Natal Sharks having won the 2013 Currie Cup. They’ve had the least upheaval of any South African franchise during the off-season and I back them to take out this year’s South African conference.
- Futures Market Odds:
- 2012 Season: 1st in the South African conference, 1st overall. Lost in the Semi-finals.
- 2013 Season: 3rd in the South African conference, 7th overall.
- New Players: Oli Kebble (Western Province), Alistair Vermaak (Western Province), Manuel Carizza (France), Tazz Fuzani (Western Province), Jean Kleyn (Western Province), Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Western Province), Godlen Masimla (Western Province), Demetri Catrakilis (Kings), Ryno Eksteen (Western Province), Michael van der Spuy (Western Province), Kobus van Wyk (Western Province), Patrick Howard (Western Province), Scott van Breda (Kings), Siviwe Shakes Soyizwapi (Southern Kings)
- Departed Players: Martin Bezuidenhout (Lions), Andries Bekker (France), Marius Coetzer (Pumas), Don Armand (UK), Rohan Kitshoff (Western Province), Dewaldt Duvenage (France), Elton Jantjies (Lions), Bryan Habana (France), Gerhard van den Heever (Ireland), Joe Pietersen (France)
- Current Squad (announced Jan 10): Gio Aplon, Ruan Botha, Schalk Burger, Manuel Carizza, Nizaam Carr, Demetri Catrakilis, Pat Cilliers, Kurt Coleman, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh, Ryno Eksteen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Deon Fourie, Tazz Fuzani, Nic Groom, Brok Harris, Pat Howard, Cheslin Kolbe, Oli Kebble, Steven Kitshoff, Jean Kleyn, Siya Kolisi, Tiaan Liebenberg, Frans Malherbe, Godlen Masimla, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Scarra Ntubeni, Michael Rhodes, Louis Schreuder, De Kock Steenkamp, Jaco Taute, Gary van Aswegen, Scott van Breda, Michael van der Spuy, Kobus van Wyk, Alistair Vermaak, Duane Vermeulen (Peter Grant will join the side in the next few weeks at the conclusion of the Japanese domestic season)
- Injury Concerns: lock Eben Etzebeth will miss the bulk of the season with a foot injury. He is due back in late April. Fellow lock De Kock Steenkamp has a groin injury and is expected to miss the first few rounds. Centre Juan de Jongh will miss at least five weeks due to a pre-season knee injury. Cheslin Kolbe will miss the opening 4+ rounds with a knee injury.
- Comments: after topping the regular season standings in 2012, the Stormers struggled in 2013, finishing outside the playoffs. While they’ve been consistently strong defensively, their attack has let them down, which is something they have been addressing during the off-season. Like most of the South African squads, the Stormers saw a lot of departures during the off-season, with most departees replaced by Currie Cup players. With the likes of Jantjies, Habana and Joe Pieterson gone, their back line doesn’t look as menacing as last year, but given the depth of rugby in South Africa, I’m not willing to put a line through their playoff chances. The Stormers will be hoping they can start the season with the same form that they showed at the end of 2013, when they ended with five consecutive wins.
- 2014 Prediction: I have concerns over where the Stormers’ points will come from, but they always boast a strong defence and they have an excellent home record. Their away schedule is brutal this season, with visits to the Crusaders, Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds. I expect the Stormers to finish 2nd in the South African conference this year, however a slip to 3rd or 4th wouldn’t surprise me.