Super Rugby: SA conference to lack SA winner … again?

    2020-01-07 14:00

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - The more optimistic of South African rugby fans, perhaps deceptively emboldened by World Cup 2019 glory, may be inclined to believe the Jaguares' supremacy in the SA conference of Super Rugby last year was a once-off occurrence.

    But is there any really good reason to believe lightning - if that’s the way you would view the Argentineans’ achievement (going on to be beaten finalists in 2019) - won’t strike twice in the fast-looming new season?

    The big thing to be kept in mind is that the Springbok matchday 23 which heroically brought the Webb Ellis Cup back to these shores from Japan was effectively made up, in majority terms, of overseas-based stars.

    Fifteen of that group - or just over 65 percent - were either already contracted to foreign outfits or known to be quitting South African climes ahead of the 2020 season.

    So there are limits to which the Boks’ triumph at RWC 2019 will translate into better domestic fortunes in the gruelling southern hemisphere tournament this year, even if the feat should serve as an extra motivator for home-based players wishing to bust into (or in some cases back into) the green and gold cause.

    In 2019, remember, the Jaguares didn’t just win the conference: they more accurately romped to table-topping status, eclipsing the next-placed Bulls by a clear margin of 10 points after ordinary season.

    If any of the South African quartet are to elbow them out, a turnaround of some magnitude is going to have to be engineered.

    But looking at the four local squads - even if mostly not yet “official” for the event starting later this month - does little to provide any firm expectation that the Jaguares will be leapfrogged in 2020.

    How on earth, for example, might the Bulls - who did reach the knockouts last year - be confidently expected to climb a notch higher in the group this year when they have surrendered a list of personnel that includes, among others, Schalk Brits (retired), Duane Vermeulen, Lood de Jager, Travis Ismaiel, Jason Jenkins, Jannes Kirsten, Jesse Kriel, Hanro Liebenberg, Handre Pollard, RG Snyman and Eli Snyman?

    That is already pretty close to an entire Super Rugby-calibre team and, as with most compatriots this year, the list of inbound players is considerably leaner than the batch of departing ones.

    With the Lions in a process of rebuilding with some generally young players perhaps unlikely to take the approaching season genuinely by storm yet, there is some thought that either of the coastal sides, the Stormers and Sharks, may be best equipped to carry the SA flag with some distinction in 2020.

    That is a shaky assumption, however, not least because both have been strongly touted before and instead flopped, and particularly when you examine the depth of the emigration from Durban in recent months: it includes the trio of Du Preez brothers, Ruan Botha, Andre Esterhuizen, Tendai Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Akker van der Merwe, Philip van der Walt, Jacques Vermeulen and a handful of slightly more peripheral customers last season who might otherwise have come into the picture more strongly in 2020.

    While the Stormers, of their acknowledged, polished pack, have only surrendered one true front-liner in Bok lock muscle man Eben Etzebeth (to Toulon), their list of notable inward signings is currently unique among the SA franchises in standing at a conspicuous zero - an indicator of their ongoing cash-flow problems.

    Under the circumstances, then, what solid evidence is there to suggest the Jaguares - increasingly wise and attuned these days to the demands of their special travel/multi-tour challenges - will be knocked from their conference perch?

    Perhaps the best likelihood of a chink in their armour, in what should otherwise remain a more settled squad than the bulk of South African ones, is the loss of superstar Pumas flanker Pablo Matera to French outfit Stade Francais.

    His rugged playing qualities and leadership will be sorely missed, although the Jaguares should remain bound by a fairly tenacious glue …

    Jaguares’ fixture order in 2020 (don’t play Chiefs, Waratahs): Lions (h), Hurricanes (h), Reds (h), Stormers (a), Bulls (a), Sharks (a), Highlanders (h), Stormers (h), Rebels (h), Brumbies (a), Blues (a), Crusaders (a), Sunwolves (a), Sharks (h), Bulls (h), Lions (a).

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Friday, 31 January 2020
    • Blues v Chiefs, Eden Park 08:05
    • Brumbies v Reds, GIO Stadium 10:15
    • Sharks v Bulls, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 19:10
    Saturday, 01 February 2020
    • Sunwolves v Rebels, Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium 05:45
    • Crusaders v Waratahs, Trafalgar Park 08:05
    • Stormers v Hurricanes, Cape Town 15:05
    • Jaguares v Lions, Estadio Jose Amalfitani 23:40
    Friday, 07 February 2020
    • Highlanders v Sharks, Forsyth Barr Stadium 08:05
    • Brumbies v Rebels, GIO Stadium 10:15


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