Vodacom Super Rugby kicks off this weekend and the four South African franchises will be in action in Singapore, Pretoria and Buenos Aires on Saturday.
The 15-team, three-conference southern hemisphere showcase kicks off on Friday morning in Hamilton when the Chiefs host the Highlanders (08h35), and the Final, on Saturday 6 July, will bring to an end an exhilarating, uninterrupted 21 weeks of action.
Singapore swing for Cell C Sharks
Robert du Preez’s Cell C Sharks will be the first local side in action when they go into battle against the Sunwolves from 12h55 at the Singapore National Stadium.
Du Preez has named a strong line-up for their opener against the Sunwolves. Aside from one debutant in the starting XV, this is a side mixed with experience and those who are making a name at this level, having already tasted a season or two of Vodacom Super Rugby action.
Aphelele Fassi, one of four youngsters making their debuts on Saturday, will start at fullback with Kerron van Vuuren, Khutha Mchunu and Phendulani Buthelezi all set to come off the bench, having earned their positions in the match 23 following strong performances against the Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls in the two pre-season hit-outs.
The youngsters are joined by regular stalwarts such as Tendai Mtawarira (prop), Akker van der Merwe (hooker), Coenie Oosthuizen (prop), Dan du Preez (loose forward), Louis Schreuder (scrumhalf, captain), Lukhanyo Am (centre) and Sbu Nkosi (wing).
Meanwhile, two South African-born players – Gerhard van den Heever (fullback) and centre Shane Gates (centre) – have been named in the Japanese side’s starting XV. Van den Heever is a former Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers player, while Gates previously played for the Southern Kings.
What they said:
Cell C Sharks head coach Robert du Preez explained that prudent rugby will be the order of the day rather than a high-paced, high-risk game: “The conditions will be tough with the humidity which make rugby difficult, so we’re going to have to do the basics really well. Our set-piece will have to function, breakdown work is extremely important and we need to be really physical. For us, it’s about going there to win.”
Prediction: Cell C Sharks by 17.
Sunwolves: 15 Gerhard van den Heever, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Shane Gates, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Ed Quirk, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 James Moore, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Asaeli Valu, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Craig Millar (captain). Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Awe Helu, 20 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Michael Little.
Cell C Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Phendulani Buthelezi, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Rhyno Smith, 23 Jeremy Ward.
Head to head:
Sunwolves won: 0
Cell C Sharks won: 3
Sunwolves points: 68
Cell C Sharks points: 128
Average score: 23-43
Date: Saturday 16 February
SA time 12h55
Venue: Singapore National Stadium
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, AJ Jacobs
Television Match Official: Minoru Fuji
Big boys and Blitzboks to battle at Loftus Versfeld
Springboks Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits will make a return to Vodacom Super Rugby this weekend, while three former Blitzboks, Rosko Specman, Dylan Sage and Ruhan Nel, will be making their debuts at this level when the Vodacom Bulls host the DHL Stormers on Saturday in Pretoria.
The big local derby starts at 17h15 and will be televised live on SuperSport 1.
Vermeulen returns to the competition for the first time since 2015 having represented the Toyota Cheetahs and DHL Stormers in 109 matches, while Brits – a former Cats and DHL Stormers player – last saw action in the southern hemisphere showpiece in 2011.
Lood de Jager (lock) has taken over the captaincy duties and is one of 10 Springboks in the Vodacom Bulls’ line-up.
Speedster Specman is the only tournament debutant in the run-on team for the home team after their new coach, Pote Human, named the former Springbok Sevens player on the wing.
Specman and replacement back Sage, the Springbok Sevens Player of the Year for 2018, will be up against Nel, who will make his debut for the DHL Stormers in the Capital, along with former Emirates Lions front ranker Corne Fourie.
Nel will start in the midfield next to the experienced Damian de Allende, and Fourie has been included on the bench for the opening round encounter.
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi will lead the Capetonians in the No 6 jersey, while 2018 SA Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit is on the other side of the scrum.
What they said:
Vodacom Bulls coach Pote Human does not consider his side as favourites despite playing at home: “Recent history in this fixture shows how formidable the DHL Stormers have been. They’ve won seven of their last nine games against us and will have more than enough confidence coming here. However, we managed to beat them last year at Loftus and I firmly believe we can do it again.”
DHL Stormers Head Coach Robbie Fleck said they are focused on making a convincing start to the 2019 Vodacom Super Rugby season: “Our preparations have gone well, so we are really excited to see what this combination will be able to do this weekend. We would obviously like to make a strong start to the season and will look to deliver in some of the areas we have been focused on in pre-season in order to do that.”
Prediction: Vodacom Bulls by five.
Vodacom Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Jessie Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lood de Jager (captain), 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka. Replacements: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Dylan Sage.
DHL Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 JJ Engelbrecht, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 SP Marais, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak. Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Dan du Plessis.
Head to head (from 1996):
Vodacom Bulls won: 12
DHL Stormers won: 18
Vodacom Bulls points: 700
DHL Stormers points: 703
Average score: 25-25
Date: Saturday, 16 February
SA time: 17h15
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, Egon Seconds
Television Match Official: Marius Jonker
Breaking the Buenos Aires hoodoo
The late-night fixture between the Jaguares and Emirates Lions in Buenos Aires (23h40) finishes the first round of action and the team from Johannesburg will be going all-out to record their first win in Argentina.
Springbok No 8 Warren Whiteley will lead a strong Emirates Lions side Buenos Aires. Coach Swys de Bruin handed a franchise debut to former Junior Springbok front ranker Carlu Sadie, while new faces on the bench include Frans van Wyk, Ruan Vermaak, Gianni Lombard and Wandisile Simelane.
Each of the previous seven meetings between the Jaguares and Emirates Lions was won by the home team on the day, with the men from Jozi currently holding the edge with four wins to three.
The Argentineans will provide a tough test at home, where they have won eight of their last 10 games against South African opposition, including their last four in a row.
What they said:
Emirates Lions coach Swys de Bruin described the Jaguares as a formidable side: “They showed last year how good a side they are when they played so well away from home, and then they make it very difficult for any team that visits Buenos Aires. We expect another tough and physical battle against them.”
Prediction: Jaguars by eight.
Emirates Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Nic Groom, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith. Replacements: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Frans van Wyk, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Ruan Vermaak, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Gianni Lombard/Dillon Smit, 22 Wandisile Simelane, 23 Ruan Combrinck.
Head to head:
Jaguares won: 3
Emirates Lions won: 4
Jaguares points: 214
Emirates Lions: 244
Average score: 31-35
Date: Saturday 16 February
Venue: Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Rasta Rasivhenge
Television Match Official: Santiago Borsani