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    Super Rugby Week 1: What to look out for

    2017-02-23 10:36

    Lloyd Burnard - Sport24

    Cape Town - Super Rugby 2017 is here! 

    For the most cynical of South African rugby supporters, there is little to be excited about and many are expecting another season of New Zealand dominance. 

    That may very well be the case, but there are little stories unfolding all over the place and many of them will contribute to what is a hugely important year for South African rugby. 

    Before every week, Sport24 will be looking ahead to some of the attractions that have caught our eye. 

    Super Rugby starts on a Thursday this year when the Rebels host the Blues, but there is a full weekend that will see all six South African franchises in action. 

    1. Handre Pollard returns

    From a South African perspective, this is a massive moment. Pollard missed the entire 2016 season with injury and while the Bulls suffered as a result, the Springboks were hurt even more. 

    There are always concerns over a player's ability to bounce back after a lengthy injury lay-off, and Pollard will be watched closely as a result. 

    Nobody will expect him to be back to his best immediately, but Springbok supporters will feel a lot better about their chances this year if the 22-year-old gets through Saturday's Newlands clash against the Stormers unscathed and in relatively good nick. 

    He will be the playmaker in a Bulls side that will continue in its endeavour to play a more entertaining and attacking brand of rugby. A lot will rest on his shoulders ... good preparation for the international year that awaits. 

    2. Cooper v Lambie

    On the subject of South African flyhalves, this is also a big year for Sharks skipper Pat Lambie. Injury has plagued his last three Super Rugby seasons and he will be desperate to get through the 2017 tournament in one piece. 

    More than that, he will want to put his hand up for Springbok selection. 

    On Friday morning, he will come up against Quade Cooper in Brisbane. The two have met before on the international stage but both have a lot to prove in 2017 and there will be no better way to start than with a victory. 

    Cooper is flashy and exciting while Lambie does the basics better than most. They are contrasting players but they do have one thing in common, and that is unfinished business in international colours. 

    At 26, Lambie should be in his prime and he needs a season to show that he is. 

    3. De Jager swaps orange for blue

    The Bulls are boosted by Pollard's return, but they will also see Lood de Jager in their line-up for the first time. The massive second-rower has made the move from the Cheetahs and he will be looking for a strong start with is new side. 

    When De Jager was last at Newlands, he clashed with Eben Etzebeth in an off-the-ball incident that got the blood pumping. That rivalry will be renewed on Saturday, though De Jager will also have Pieter-Steph du Toit to contend with. 

    It is a match that sees the country's three best locks all on the same field. De Jager is outnumbered, but he has never been one to bag down to a challenge. 

    4. Another fresh start for the Kings

    The Kings, with another new-look squad, take on the Jaguares in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. It is a fixture that Deon Davids' side won last year - one of only two victories in 2016. 

    With rumours circulating that South Africa could be culling two of its franchises beyond this season, the Kings will want to prove that they belong on this stage. 

    They avoid the Kiwi sides in the group stages this year, which will be a massive boost, but defeat to the Jaguares at home on the opening day of the season will not inspire much confidence. 

    5. What to expect from the Cheetahs?

    The Cheetahs have disappointed on the Super Rugby stage ever since making the play-offs back in 2013 - their leaky defence the major issue. 

    But, will a flawless Currie Cup campaign in 2016 translate into success in Super Rugby? It did last year for the Lions, who cruised to the Currie Cup title in 2015. 

    Bloemfontein hosts these two sides on Saturday afternoon in what promises to be a cracker. 

    The Lions will obviously be favoured to win, but there is a school of thought suggesting that they reached their peak last year. 

    This match isn't so much about the Lions - we know what they can do. Instead, it is a chance to assess how far the Cheetahs have come in their off-season. 

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