Jean de Villiers. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
With momentum building ahead of the 2020 Super Rugby season, as local franchises prepare for this weekend’s Super Hero Sunday warm-up clashes, plenty of questions are being asked of the South African teams and their chances this year.
Gearing up to end a 10-year drought in the annual 15-team competition, which starts at the end of this month, the four SA sides will face old foes and new challenges.
In the build-up to the campaign, some of the country’s top former players and coaches share their thoughts on the local squads and whether they’re ready to put up a fight.
Q: What impact can we expect on the local game this season, following the Springboks’ World Cup victory in Japan last year?
Jean de Villiers. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Jean de Villiers (former Springbok captain): For the players who were in the Bok squad, it’s a chance to build on that momentum, and for the players who weren’t part of the squad, it gives them something to aspire to at that level. So I hope it will have a positive impact on the individuals and the teams.
Ollie le Roux (former Springbok prop): It has definitely given the country a boost and reminded every South African that we are stronger together, so I’m sure we can build on that. Every season is a new season and every week is a new week, and every person’s motivation is different, but there is a great vibe at the moment and I think pride in the Springboks will have created a lot of energy in the camps.
Ray Mordt (former Springbok wing): We have amazing talent in this country and I think that’s the big thing we can take from the World Cup. We probably have the best breeding ground in the world. Unfortunately we are losing players at a young age that we will never see, who will play for other countries, but that was an amazing World Cup and it says a lot for South African rugby. With Rassie (Erasmus, former Bok coach) being the director of coaching now, it’s going to filter down to all the provinces and hopefully we will see that in the games.
Loffie Eloff (former Lions and Junior Springboks coach): There’s a new hype around the country which will have a huge influence on the new season. There are a few young players who will see this Super Rugby season as a great opportunity to put up their hands as candidates for the Springbok side.
Q: Is it a concern that there has been a mass exodus of South African players to foreign clubs?
Jean de Villiers: Without a doubt, the more guys we have playing abroad, the more the squads in South Africa are diluted, and a big chunk of the World Cup players have gone abroad so the local franchises will have lost quite a bit. I think we’ll still be competitive, but once we go deeper into the competition and injuries start striking, unfortunately the depth will be tested. But it also provides opportunities for other guys, which is really all you ask for as a player.
Ollie le Roux. Mandatory Credit: David Rogers /Allsport
Ollie le Roux: I really believe the only logical thing in Super Rugby would have been to merge the SA teams rather than cutting off the Cheetahs and the Kings, which would have built national unity. Now we’ve got a bunch of guys playing in Europe and only two thirds of the guys here are playing Super Rugby, so it doesn’t feel like we are together as a country. The World Cup brought us together, but to this day we are paying for the decision made by SA Rugby to not merge the Bulls and the Lions into a super club.
We are losing a lot of players and experience to overseas clubs, though these days it might be better to send our players to Europe where they can develop. The Super Rugby competition is very tough, but you need to play against experienced guys to learn how to play at the highest level.
Ray Mordt of Transvaal playing rugby in South Africa. (Photo by Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images)
Ray Mordt: Some very talented players have left to go abroad, which will weaken some of our Super Rugby sides, but this is a professional game and players have short careers, so they will go where they can make good money. Let them go and play there because the experience they gain is incredible, but they must still be eligible to play for South Africa. That’s the message Rassie has conveyed. If they continue their careers overseas they must still be watched very closely. Their departure also gives younger players a real opportunity to show their worth and their talent.
Loffie Eloff: We have loads of talented rugby players in this country, but we tend to hold on to the past. Most of the players who are leaving now have paid their dues. Their decision to play overseas also provides a window of opportunity for the next generation to play at this level, and there needs to be an evolution of players to be successful at this game. There will be a few new kids who put up their hands this season and some will probably make the Bok side.
Q: Which of the SA teams has the best chance of lifting the Super Rugby trophy?
Jean de Villiers: It’s quite a tight race this year. Having quite a big Springbok influence in their pack will certainly help the Stormers. The Lions don’t seem to have many big players anymore, but they always perform and find a way to win games. The Bulls have brought back some experience, along with some exciting youngsters, and the Sharks have the same sort of transition. So it’s as difficult to make a prediction this year as it is every season. Everyone is confident and hoping to do well, but the proof is in the pudding and only when the competition starts will we really be able to say which are the teams to watch.
Ollie le Roux: It’s very difficult to make a prediction. Not many of our players have the experience of losing in playoffs, which is how you learn to win. We’ve got some young players and new coaches, which is going to be tough on a few sides, and it might take them a while to build on what their predecessors have done. I’m not a Bulls supporter but I’m backing Pote Human (Bulls coach) because he’s older and wiser. He does still have a tough task and I think all the teams will be strong in the beginning, but if I had to put cash on the line, I would go with the Bulls to lead the pack in the end.
Ray Mordt: It’s difficult this year. If you look at the names and the players at the Stormers, you would think they’d be the strongest of the four sides. But a lot of the youngsters have matured at the Lions, while I think the Sharks are always a phenomenal side, and you can never write off the Bulls. I just want every team to go out there and continue where we left off at the World Cup and play the brand of rugby we are capable of playing.
Hilton Lobberts and Eugene Eloff of South Africa celebrate after defeating New Zealand in the IRB U19 World Championship at Absa Stadium April 17, 2005 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo byTouchline/Getty Images)
Loffie Eloff: I’m a Lion at heart, but the interesting thing this season is that three teams have new coaches. The Stormers have John Dobson, the Lions have Ivan (van Rooyen) and the Sharks have Sean Everitt, who will all have new approaches, but there will be enormous pressure on them to perform. So I think if one team is expected to perform, it has to be the Bulls because they haven’t changed their management. Pote (Human) is still there, so one would expect more from them, but it will boil down to which team has the best fitness and conditioning, the best skills set, the ability to play together and who wants it the most.
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