Super Rugby preview: Stormers
Cape Town - It's been a tough old time for Western Province rugby.
Financial issues have resulted in the union being liquidated, and as a result there has been a lot of uncertainty around the future of some of the biggest players at Newlands.
They have managed to keep most of their big names for 2017, at least, and they have an element of continuity in the form of Robbie Fleck entering his second season as head coach.
The Stormers won their conference last year, but came unstuck badly in the quarter-finals of the tournament when they were smashed by the Chiefs (60-21) at Newlands.
They will have to get used to facing Kiwi opposition quickly in 2017 as they will play all 5 New Zealand teams in regular season.
Based on that, it could be a tough year for the men from the Cape.
They are grouped alongside the Bulls, Cheetahs and Sunwolves in their conference and whoever wins that battle will get to host a quarter-final.
It is almost impossible to mention Eben Etzebeth without bringing up Pieter-Steph du Toit. It is one of the most respected and physically imposing second rows in world rugby and is surely the Stormers' biggest strength once again. In Etzebeth, the Stormers have a player who can dominate the physical exchanges while Du Toit is a monster at lineout time. The fitness of those two is crucial.
We've already mentioned the financial trouble and, as a result, the Stormers have not been very active in bringing players in this off-season. That SP Marais joining from the Bulls is probably their major signing speaks volumes. Du Toit's younger brother - loose forward Johan du Toit - also arrives alongside centre/fullback Dan Kriel.
Schalk Burger. The Springbok veteran said his goodbyes to Newlands last season and is with English giants Saracens for now. His absence will be felt on the field and off it. There are certain types of players who naturally lift those around them, and Burger is one such individual.
February 25: Bulls (h)
March 4: Jaguares (h)
March 11: Kings (a)
March 18: BYE
March 25: Sunwolves (a)
April 1: Cheetahs (h)
April 8: Chiefs (h)
April 15: Lions (h)
April 22: Crusaders (a)
April 29: Highlanders (a)
May 5: Hurricanes (a)
May 13: BYE
May 19: Blues (h)
May 27: Sharks (a)
July 1: Cheetahs (a)
July 8: Sunwolves (h)
July 15: Bulls (a)
The Stormers could struggle this year. We wouldn't be surprised if the Bulls edge them to a home quarter-final.