Published on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 18:08
Written by Alasdair Fraser
Yes folks, it’s that time of the year, the 2013 Vodacom Super 15 is back for another instalment of explosive hits, dazzling tries, and arguably the world’s finest rugby players slugging it out for Southern Hemisphere supremacy.
It’s been 20 years since rugby’s top three nations; New Zealand, South Africa and Australia first participated in what has become the world’s premier provincial/club competition.
Back then it what known as the Super 10, rugby was still amateur, people didn’t have cellphones and Francois Pienaar’s Transvaal (now the Lions) beat Sean Fitzpatrick’s Auckland (now the Blues) at Ellis Park in a dramatic 20-17 humdinger of a final – a precursor to the epic 1995 World Cup final perhaps?
Fast forward to the present and the world is a different beast. The Lions have made way for the much-maligned Kings in controversial circumstances which triggered a hate campaign from SA rugby fans.
The Kings are expected to bomb spectacularly and will look forward to a playoff challenge against the Lions for a place in next year’s competition. For now, they’ll bring some much-appreciated topflight rugby to Nelson Mandela Bay and it’ll be great to see former UCT flyhalf Demetri ‘The Greek’ Catrakilis, performing a pivotal role in the Kings fortunes.
The rest of the South African conference is too tight to call with the Cheetahs intent on mounting a serious challenge after a promising year of dynamic, no-holds barred rugby in 2012. They’ll enjoy having stars like Heinrich Brussouw, Johan Goosen and the sensational Ghanaian-born Raymond Rhule within their ranks. If their players remain injury free, then Bloemfontein will be a graveyard for the Aussie and Kiwi teams.
The other three SA franchises, the Sharks, Bulls and Stormers are not only blessed with talented squads that supply the bulk of the Springbok team, but all three have benefited by snapping up the stars of the relegated Lions.
The Stormers are the biggest beneficiaries with star Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute, Pat Cilliers and Michael Rhodes bolstering a very talented squad. Jantjies creativity and playmaking abilities will make a massive difference to the Stormers who only managed to score a dismal 28 tries in 16 games – the lowest of all 15 teams. He’ll need great service which comes in the form of UCT’s very own Nic Groom, who made up the other half of a championship winning combination with Catrakilis for UCT in 2011 and WP in the 2012 Currie Cup final.
Cape Town’s finest are genuine contenders for the title and this might be their year, although don’t write off the Sharks, who, after a disappointing year of stumbling at the last hurdle, will be hard to beat at home and have no fear when touring Australasia. Away wins are like gold dust and the Sharks are ably equipped to claim a few scalps abroad.
After two years of playing fullback for the Sharks, Patrick Lambie will play flyhalf, and if last year’s Bok performances are anything to go by, then the young pivot and Springbok incumbent will be an integral part of a potential championship win.
The dark horses are definitely the Bulls. An indifferent 2012 season for Morne Steyn might bring out the best in the Bulls and their Springbok discard. Make no mistake, it’s never easy going to Loftus and Steyn’s lethal boot will punish any team. The Bulls pride themselves on squeezing out the life of visiting teams with relentless tactical kicking and a confident Steyn will be their kingpin.
Catch the Stormers taking on the champion Chiefs in their first home fixture of the year at Newlands Rugby Stadium on Saturday March 2nd at 5pm.