Super Rugby preview: Stormers
Cape Town - The Stormers enter the expanded 2016 version of Super Rugby as the reigning South African conference champions.
They are also the favoured of all the South African sides to lift the trophy this year, if local bookmakers are to be believed.
But it has not been an ideal pre-season for the Cape Town lads as Eddie Jones was unveiled as the franchise's highly-rated new coach following the departure of Allister Coetzee only to jump ship for England two weeks into his new job.
That has left Robbie Fleck, untested at this level, in charge.
Fleck has promised a fearless brand of rugby from his side this season, and with the draw working in his favour, he will be fancying his chances of progressing to the tournament quarter-finals in his debut Super Rugby campaign.
Coach: Robbie Fleck
Captain: Juan de Jongh and Frans Malherbe
Last season: Lost in qualifiers, SA conference champions
Grouped with: Cheetahs, Bulls, Sunwolves
Potential strengths: The good news for the Stormers is that they have retained a large number of their players from last season. While Duane Vermeulen is the obvious major loss, the pack will have an otherwise familiar feel to it. Schalk Burger remains, while the experience of Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr, Eben Etzebeth, Scarra Ntubeni and Frans Malherbe will be needed. One of the most exciting prospects is the partnership of Etzebeth and new signing Pieter-Steph du Toit in the second row.
Potential weaknesses: There is an element of uncertainty in the backline. With the trusted Demetri Catrakilis having left with Coetzee last season, the Stormers will be fielding a new first-choice flyhalf in 2016. Robert du Preez is the favourite to start the season opener against the Bulls, but he is a Super Rugby novice. Injuries also mean that the Stormers are a little thin at inside centre, so how the 10/12 combination develops in the opening weeks will be watched closely by Stormers fans.
Players to watch: The Etzebeth/Du Toit combination is obviously the major attraction of this side, but it is also a big season for Frans Malherbe as he looks to become the go-to tighthead for the Springboks.
Realistic aim: The Stormers will look to top their conference and secure a home quarter-final. A push for the title is likely a step too far, but a last four place could be seen as realistic.
Players in: Pieter-Steph du Toit (Sharks), Cornal Hendricks (Cheetahs), JC Janse van Rensburg (Bayonne), JP Smith (Brumbies), Jano Vermaak (Toulouse).
Players out: Manuel Carizza (Racing 92), Demetri Catrakilis (Montpellier), Jean de Villiers (Leicester), Patrick Howard (Northampton), Steven Kitshoff (Bordeaux), Neil Rautenbach (Cheetahs), Michael Rhodes (Saracens), Duane Vermeulen (Toulon).
First fixture: February 27 v Bulls (h).
***Sport24 will be bringing you previews of each South African side throughout the week***