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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
playing qualities and leadership will be sorely missed, although the Jaguares
should remain bound by a fairly tenacious glue …
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),
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: