The following is a preview of the South African Conference for the 2015 Super Rugby season. Futures market betting tips are also provided.
The South African sides will be hoping to bounce back from a year to forget in 2014, when just one side finished inside the top half of the table. The Springboks policy of including overseas players continues to weaken the conference, with many players opting to head to the northern hemisphere, however their departure does provide the upside of exposing more fresh talent to Super Rugby.
With this being a World Cup year, the Springbok-laden sides have been given instructions by the national team to nurse their players through the season. It will be interesting to see how many Springboks feature in the four-week overseas tours, which have been a nightmare for South African sides in recent years. Only the Sharks won any overseas fixtures last year. The other sides combined for 0-16!
The Sharks dominated the South African conference but the Bulls and Stormers look well placed to close the gap this season.
Below are team-by-team previews for 2015. These details will be updated as more information becomes available. 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
- 2014 Season: 2nd in South African conference, 9th overall.
- 2014 Offense Ranking (based on most points scored): 12th
- 2014 Defense Ranking (based on fewest points conceded): 5th
- New Players: Trevor Nyakane (Cheetahs), Hencus van Wyk (Blue Bulls), Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), Jaco Visagie (Blue Bulls), RG Snyman (Blue Bulls), Lappies Labuschagné (Cheetahs), Nardus van der Walt (Blue Bulls), Hanro Liebenberg (Blue Bulls), Ryan Nell (Blue Bulls), Burger Odendaal (Blue Bulls), Jamba Ulengo (S.A. Rugby Sevens), Warrick Galant (Blue Bulls), Duncan Matthews (Blue Bulls)
- Departed Players: Frik Kirsten (retired), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers), Paul Willemse (France), Wiaan Liebenberg (UP Turks), Dewald Potgieter (Japan), Roelof Smit (Blue Bulls), Wimpie van der Walt (NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes), Jono Ross (France), Louis Fouché (Japan), Sampie Mastriet (Lions), Ulrich Beyers (France)
- Current Squad:
Forwards: Dean Greyling, Werner Kruger, Morné Mellett, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Hencus van Wyk, Bandise Maku, Adriaan Strauss, Callie Visagie, Jaco Visagie, Grant Hattingh, Nico Janse van Rensburg, Victor Matfield, Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Flip van der Merwe, Arno Botha, Jacques du Plessis, Lappies Labuschagné, Wiaan Liebenberg, Deon Stegmann, Nardus van der Walt, Jacques Engelbrecht, Hanro Liebenberg, Pierre Spies
Backs: Francois Hougaard, Rudy Paige, Piet van Zyl, Handré Pollard, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, JJ Engelbrecht, Ryan Nell, Burger Odendaal, Jan Serfontein, William Small-Smith, Bjorn Basson, Travis Ismaiel, Akona Ndungane, Jamba Ulengo, Warrick Galant, Jesse Kriel, Duncan Matthews, Jurgen Visser
- Injury Concerns:
- Pierre Schoeman is out for the season with a torn ACL
- Bandise Maku is out for the season with a torn pectoral
- Flip van der Merwe is due back sometime around Round 10 due to a pectoral injury
- Hencus van Wyk has a broken foot and is expected back around Round 4
- Marcel van der Merwe will miss the first two or three Rounds due to a hamstring injury
- Dean Greyling will miss Rounds 1 and 2 due to a foot injury
- Travis Ismaiel will miss Round 1 due to a hamstring strain
- Akona Ndungane will miss Round 1 due to a cal strain
- Comments: while they did lose a few starters during the off-season, the Bulls poached some handy forwards from the Cheetahs and they have been boosted by the returns of Pierre Spies and Arno Botha from long-term injuries. The Bulls will be looking to bounce back from a year to forget after an exodus of players prior to last season and a string of injuries. Their strong forward pack was exposed for lacking pace last year but they have recruited well to rectify the issue. If the Bulls are to reach the playoffs this season they must improve on their overseas form. They’ve only won two of their last twelve games in Australasia and they lost all four overseas games last season. The Bulls finished 12th in the scoring standings last season and Victor Matfield has stated they intend to play more expansive rugby this season in an attempt to score more tries.
- 2015 Prediction: I expect the Bulls will close the 12-point gap that separated them from the conference leading Sharks last season, but they still are in a rebuilding phase. I expect them to finish 2nd or 3rd in the conference, depending on the resurgence of the Stormers. With a kinder schedule this season the Bulls should do better than their 9th placed overall finish last year.
- 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.
- 2014 Season: 5th in South African conference, 14th overall.
- 2014 Offense Ranking (based on most points scored): 10th
- 2014 Defense Ranking (based on fewest points conceded): 15th
- New Players: Danie Mienie (Natal Sharks), BG Uys (Eastern Province Kings), Ewald van der Westhuizen (Griquas), Stephan Coetzee (Western Province), Armandt Koster (Griffons), Jonathan Adendorf (Griquas), Willie Britz (Lions), Tienie Burger (Free State Cheetahs), Willie du Plessis (Golden Lions), Joe Pietersen (France), JP du Plessis (France), JW Jonker (Lions), Michael van der Spuy (Western Province), Danie Dames (Griquas), Sergeal Petersen (Eastern Province Kings), Clayton Blommetjies (Bulls), Coenie van Wyk (Lions)
- Departed Players: Luan de Bruin (Free State Cheetahs), Rossouw de Klerk (Scotland), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls), Kevin Stevens (Free State Cheetahs), Adriaan Strauss (Bulls), Andries Ferreira (Italy), Ligtoring Landman (Wales), Waltie Vermeulen (retired), Lappies Labuschagné (Bulls), Philip van der Walt (France), Henco Venter (Free State Cheetahs), Johan Goosen (France), Riaan Smit (France), Howard Mnisi (Lions), Hennie Daniller (Italy)
- Current Squad: Caylib Oosthuizen, BG Uys, Danie Minnie, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Martin Bezuidenhout, Stefan Coetzee, Coenie Oosthuizen, Maks van Dyk, Ewald van der Westhuizen, Carl Wegner, Lodewyk de Jager, Francois Uys, Armand Koster, Boom Prinsloo, Carel Greeff, Jean Cook, Tienie Burger, Oupa Mohoje, Willie Britz, Sarel Pretorius, Shaun Venter, Tian Meyer, Joe Petersen, Willie du Plessis, Francois Brummer, Raymond Rhule, Cornal Hendricks, Danie Dames, Francois Venter, Rayno Benjamin, Michael van der Spuy, Johan Sadie, JW Jonker, Willie le Roux, Clayton Blommetjies
- Injury Concerns:
- Jonathan Adendorf has a groin injury, his return date is unknown
- Heinrich Brüssow will miss Round 1 due to a concussion
- Sergeal Peterson is out until Round 6 due to a broken jaw
- Willem Serfontein it out until Round 12 with a knee injury
- Elgar Watts is out until Round 12 with a knee injury
- Comments: the Cheetahs had a massive clear-out during the off-season, with the losses of forwards Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane and Lappies Labuschagné as well as fly-half Johan Goosen particularly damaging, so they would do very well to avoid the competition wooden spoon. To have any chance of avoiding 5th place in the South African conference again, the Cheetahs must improve on their defence, which conceded 33 points per game last season – the worst record in the competition. They were criticized for being too Gung ho on offence last season so it will be interesting to see if coach Naka Drotské changes their approach this year.
- 2015 Prediction: unless the new recruits pull some surprises, I expect the Cheetahs to again finish bottom of the South African conference. They are also my pick for the competition wooden spoon.
- 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.
- 2014 Season: 4th in South African conference, 12th overall.
- 2014 Offense Ranking (based on most points scored): 11th
- 2014 Defense Ranking (based on fewest points conceded): 11th
- New Players: Robert Kruger (Leopards), Ruaan Lerm (Golden Lions), Jaco van der Walt (Golden Lions), Howard Mnisi (Cheetahs), Harold Vorster (Golden Lions), Sampie Mastriet (Bulls), Mark Richards (Golden Lions)
- Departed Players: Charles Marais (Eastern Province Kings), Mark Pretorius (Golden Lions), Willie Wepener (Golden Lions), Rudi Mathee (Pumas), Franco van der Merwe (Ireland), Willie Britz (Cheetahs), Alwyn Hollenbach (Golden Lions), JW Jonker (Cheetahs), Stefan Watermeyer (Pumas), Chrysander Botha (England), Deon van Rensburg (retired), Coenie van Wyk (Cheetahs)
- Current Squad: Marnitz Boshoff, Andries Coetzee, Robin Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Ross Cronje, Faf de Klerk, Steph de Witt, Ruan Dreyer, Corne Fourie, Stokkies Hanekom, Elton Jantjies, Jaco Kriel, Robert Kruger, Ruaan Lerm, MB Lusaseni, Malcolm Marx, Lionel Mapoe, Sampie Mastriet, Derick Minnie, Howard Mnisi, Franco Mostert, Martin Muller, Julian Redelinghuys, Mark Richards, Courtnall Skosan, Warwick Tecklenburg, Armand van der Merwe, Schalk van der Merwe, Jaco van der Walt, Jacques van Rooyen, Anthony Volmink, Harold Vorster, Warren Whiteley (captain)
- Injury Concerns: none that I’m aware of
- Comments: apart from the departure of Franco van der Merwe, the Lions look to have maintained the nucleus of last year’s side. They were impressive on their return to Super Rugby last year, winning seven games to finish seven points above the Cheetahs after spending a year in the wilderness. They are well coached under Johan Ackermann with a solid set-piece good structure in defence.
- 2015 Prediction: with the Cheetahs entering a rebuilding phase, the Lions have a good chance of finishing 4th in the South African conference. On paper they don’t have the squad quality to compete with the Bulls and Stormers, but under coach Ackermann this side is more than the sum of its parts.
- 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.
- 2014 Season: 1st in South African conference, 3rd overall. Lost in the Semi-finals.
- 2014 Offense Ranking (based on most points scored): 7th
- 2014 Defense Ranking (based on fewest points conceded): 2nd
- New Players: Matt Stevens (England), Mouritz Botha (England), Lubabalo Mtyanda (Pumas), Marco Wentzel (Natal Sharks), Khaya Majola (Natal Sharks), Renaldo Bothma (Pumas), Michael Claassens (France), Conrad Hoffmann (Brumbies), Cameron Wright (Natal Sharks), Lionel Cronjé (Brumbies), Waylon Murray (Bulls), Paul Perez (Eastern Province Kings), Jack Wilson (England)
- Departed Players: Wiehahn Herbst (Ireland), Anton Bresler (Scotland), Jacques Botes (retired), Keegan Daniel (Japan), Charl McLeod (France), Tim Swiel (Natal Sharks), Tonderai Chavhanga (Natal Sharks), Jaco van Tonder (Natal Sharks)
- Current Squad: Lourens Adriaanse, Mouritz Botha, Renaldo Bothma, Dale Chadwick, Michael Claassens, Marcell Coetzee, Kyle Cooper, Lionel Cronjé, Jean Deysel, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Thomas du Toit, Andre Esterhuizen, Monde Hadebe, Conrad Hoffmann, Ryan Kankowski, Patrick Lambie, Khaya Majola, Franco Marais, SP Marais, Beast Mtawarira, Tera Mtembu, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Waylon Murray, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, Etienne Oosthuizen, Paul Perez, JP Pietersen, Cobus Reinach, S’bura Sithole, Matt Stevens, Frans Steyn, Stefan Ungerer, Marco Wentzel, Heimar Williams, Jack Wilson, Cameron Wright, Fred Zeilinga, JC Astle, Paul Jordaan, Stephan Lewies, Tonderai Chavhanga, Willem Alberts
- Injury Concerns and Absentees:
- Willem Alberts has a hamstring injury and isn’t expected back until Round 2 or 3
- Paul Jordaan, Tonderai Chavhanga, JC Astle and Stephan Lewies are part of the rehabilitation group and not yet ready to be considered for selection
- Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen and Ryan Kankowski are in Japan and will miss the start of the season
- Michael Claassens will join the squad once his commitments in France have concluded
- Comments: the most notable change for the Sharks this season is the departure of head coach Jake White. He has been replaced by Gary Gold, a previous Assistant Coach for the Springboks who has previously coached in Japan. Gold has big boots to fill but he inherits a very strong squad that is well capable of topping the South African conference for a second year running.
- 2015 Prediction: the Sharks are my tip to finish first in the conference again, however I expect the Bulls and Stormers to push them much harder this year. The Sharks can have no complaints about the scheduling this season, with both byes conveniently timed in the second half of the season. With the New Zealand conference so evenly poised, the Sharks have a genuine chance of finishing 2nd in the regular season standings. The key for them will be starting quickly. They commence the season missing numerous players but they have soft fixtures in Rounds 1 and 2. They then visit the Bulls and Stormers who will both be under-strength in the early rounds.
- 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.
- 2014 Season: 3rd in South African conference, 11th overall.
- 2014 Offense Ranking (based on most points scored): 15th
- 2014 Defense Ranking (based on fewest points conceded): 4th
- New Players: Vincent Koch (Pumas), Bongi Mbonambi (Bulls), Dillyn Leyds (Force)
- Departed Players: Pat Cilliers (France), Brok Harris (Wales), Sti Sithole (Western Province), Stephan Coetzee (Griquas), Martin Dreyer (Boland Cavaliers), Deon Fourie (France), Tiaan Liebenberg (retired), De Kock Steenkamp (Wales), Rohan Kitshoff (Western Province), Dylon Frylinck (Pumas), Peter Grant (France), Michael van der Spuy (Griquas), Gio Aplon (France), Seabelo Senatla (S.A. Rugby Sevens), Sailosi Tagicakibau (London Irish), Devon Williams (Western Province)
- Current Squad (still to be finalised):
Forwards: Oli Kebble, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe, Alistair Vermaak, Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni, Mike Willemse, Ruan Botha, Manuel Carizza, Eben Etzebeth, Jean Kleyn, Jurie van Vuuren, Schalk Burger, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Skuna Notshe, Michael Rhodes, Nizaam Carr, Duane Vermeulen
Backs: Nic Groom, Godlen Masimla, Louis Schreuder, Demetri Catrakilis, Kurt Coleman, Ryno Eksteen, Juan de Jongh, Kobus van Wyk, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe, Dillyn Leyds, Jaco Taute
- Injury Concerns:
- Jean de Villiers is out for the season with a torn ACL
- Eben Etzebeth will miss Rounds 1 & 2 with a chest injury
- Manuel Carizza will miss Round 1 with a shoulder injury
- Jean Kleyn will miss Round 1 (knee)
- Kobus van Wyk is out injured and will miss the beginning of the season
- Siya Kolisi will miss week 1 to give him time to recover from an injury
- Frans Malherbe has an ankle injury. He may be available for Round 3.
- Jaco Taute – has a knee injury. He may be available for Round 5.
- Comments: the Stormers have regressed in recent seasons, finishing 1st in the regular season standings in 2012, 7th in 2013 and then 11th in 2014. They struggled with injuries last season, which turned out to be a tale of two halves. The Stormers went 1-6 to start the year but finished the second half strongly, going 5-1. Much of that disparity was due to their disastrous overseas tour early in the season. The Stormers went 1-7 on the road last year, with their solitary away win coming against a South African opponent. Their home form was a different story, however, where they went 6-2. Their performances in recent seasons have frustrated fans given the quality within the squad. With a number of key players departing for France during the off-season, the Stormers squad looks weaker on paper this year, but they do retain a lot of quality players. This will be the last season for coach Allister Coetzee, who will take on a coaching job in Japan next year. Much of the Stormers success this year will come down to how much they can improve their offence. They’ve always boasted a stingy defence but the Stormers only averaged 18 points scored per game last season, which was the lowest in the competition. Another key factor will be injuries, can they avoid another injury-ravaged season?
- 2015 Prediction: as with every team, the Stormers’ season will depend a lot on their injury toll, and they haven’t made a good start for 2015, losing Jean de Villiers for the season and locks Etzebeth and Carizza for the start of their campaign. If they can stay fit the Stormers are very capable of finishing 2nd in the South African conference with a playoff spot not out of the question. My guess though, is that they’ll finish 3rd in the conference and somewhere mid-table.
Futures Market Betting Tips
The Cheetahs on paper have regressed from last season, with an eye-watering amount of talent departing during the off-season. Their defence was a mess last year, which was a large reason behind them finishing bottom of the South African conference and 2nd bottom in the overall standings. With the departures of Strauss, Labuschagne, Nyakane and their talisman Goosen, I’m pessimistic about their chances in 2015. I would back the Cheetahs for the competition wooden spoon at 3.50 (Sportsbet).
I’m not convinced the Sharks will win the title, but if you use a betting exchange, I would consider backing the Sharks to win the title now (8.20 with Betfair at the time of writing) and then lay them after the conclusion of Round 10. Following Round 10 they will have two byes and a four-game overseas tour, which will likely see them slip down the standings. With the New Zealand conference looking so even this year the Sharks stand a decent chance of being in 2nd place by the end of Round 10, so you should get shorter odds to lay them then. If you want to back the Sharks using a bookmaker the best odds available at the time of writing were 8.969 with Pinnacle Sports.