ITS HERE!!!!! The 2013 Super Rugby season is finally upon us, and if you take into consideration the new IRB laws in place, aimed at speeding up an already pacy and intense tournament, this season is already shaping up to be one of the most anticipated yet. Add to that the Lions player exodus, the usual pre-season player draft as well as a local plague of injuries; franchises are putting together some interesting and risky combinations in their starting 15’s. Now although we know Rugby to be a team sport, we can’t deny that it will take moments of brilliance from key individuals if an SA franchise hopes to lift the trophy come August. Here are my key Super Rugby players for each of the 5 SA franchises.
The Kings – Demetri Catrakilis
The controversial inclusion of the Southern Kings has raised more than a couple eyebrows and with the addition of many drafted and international names it’s hard to buy that this is a proposed “transformation”. Good news for the locals responsible for building the franchise is that The Kings have been limited to playing only 2 foreign players in their starting 15. After 2 recent losses to the Lions and Griquas as part of their Super warm up, things are not looking good in the Kings Camp. Truthfully no one can be sure how the team will perform come their first game against the Force in PE but one thing is for certain, if they want to stand any chance of success this year they will have to get the basics right. I do see a lot of promise coming from no. 10 Demetri Catrakili. After playing a vital role for Western Province that led to the eventual 2012 Currie Cup win where he kicked three penalties and slotted two influential drop kicks in the final quarter of the game. Catrakilis has shown he can handle the big match scenarios and with a Currie Cup conversion rate of 88% he should be able to put some points on the board when they take on the Force in PE. Already having been voted the Vodacom Cup player of the year for 2012 , this former WP talent has a bright future in the game however one would hope that his 2 year deal with the Kings wont hamper his chances at future selection for the Boks as it has done for the Lions players in previous years. All in all Demetri Catrakilis has all the tools you would look for in a 10 and if provided with some quality ball the Kings may be in with a chance of avoiding embarrassment and a relegation playoff game.
Blue Bulls – Morne Steyn
Despite recent lackluster performances in the Green and Gold, Morne, has for whatever reason, generally been able to show his skills for the Pretoria based franchise. Most fly halfs, particularly the Bulls no.10 are crucial in dictating the pace of the game. Steyn’s ”when in form” deadly boot will be a factor in punishing the oppositions lack of discipline and inability to adjust to the new laws, giving the boys in blue an early lead (remembering his perfect kicking record of 29/29 in the 2010 Tri Nations). However there are 2 main factors that will determine how Steyn will fair in 2013, firstly nailing early successful conversions will be key as he has always played off of confidence and secondly the 9/10 pairing, relying heavily on Hougaard to provide quick quality ball specifically from the Bulls dominant set pieces. Morne Steyn has already accumulated over 1200 points in his Super Rugby career and second only to the New Zealand veteran and current World Champ no.10 Dan Carter. The bulls have made 3 finals in Super Rugby history and have been able to snatch the championship on all 3 occasions with Morne Steyn being involved in the last 2 (2009 &2010)
The Cheetahs – Adriaan Strauss
The Cheetahs have so far not impressed in Super Rugby with a to date best finish of 7th place back in 1997, but ask anyone that has played them and they will tell you that they are no walk over. My pick for the Cheetahs has to be the Leader of the Free State franchise Adriaan Strauss. Strauss has been able to turn the flow of a game in his favour purely from his set piece ability. With already 21 international caps he has more than filled the gap left in the Boks by the injured Bismack. After leading the Cheetahs to a surprise win over the Stormers in this year’s Super build up I believe, beyond his talent at no.2, his knack for rallying the troops and leading from the front will provide his squad with the fight they will desperately need to pick up away points, something they were able to do in 2012 picking up the 2nd highest amount of Bonus Points (10pts) in the overall log.
The Stormers – Elton Jantjies
The Stormers have to be the SA favorites going into the Super Rugby tournament. Coming off an impressive Currie Cup win against the Sharks last year, the Cape Franchise have hugely benefited from the Lions relegation gaining some of the best up and coming talent in Local rugby. My pick for the Stormers is Elton Jantjies. His success at 10 for the Lions sidelined the veteran Butch James and has now been given the starting jersey for the Stormers. Elton has some Super Rugby experience as well as 2 impressive caps for the Boks. His ability to put the ball between the posts is as expected for a number 10, but it is his gift as a running fly half that sets him apart. Able to read the game and bring the backline in beyond a “crash ball” point was crucial to the Lions recent success including a 2011 Currie Cup win. Elton will feel at home among the other Lions players in the squad but after the recent loss of his father we hope that he will be able to focus under the pressure that the Super Rugby tournament requires.
The Sharks – Francois Steyn
With 2 recent final losses in the form of the 2012 Currie Cup as well as last year’s Super Rugby final to the chiefs (Final Score: 37-6), the Durban based franchise seem to have a knack for letting it slip right at the end. Now had it not been for the fact that veteran Bok hooker Bismarck is only scheduled for return just in time for the Sharks Australasian tour, he would most certainly be at the top of the list. But this is a tournament that needs to be played throughout and for that reason I have chosen the new stand in Captain Francois Steyn. I care little that Steyn has been appointed captain and actually feel that this kind of title should have been left to someone else but I have picked Steyn based on ability. He is one of the few players who can truly be called a utility back, as opposed to moving a player around the backline to see where he fits (Case in point Ruan Pienaar). Steyn has one of the most feared boots in rugby today being able to convert and punish the opposition well within his own half. He is aggressive and that’s something SA teams have missed in the backline defense. Many have complained about playing Steyn at 12 claiming he is a better 15 and sure he may have more experience at the back but his tackling alone has proven invaluable in the first line of defense. Wherever Steyn plays he will make a physical impact and putting the opposition on the back foot is crucial when taking on the likes of the New Zealand franchises.
In the end we’re all gunning for a South African final and eventual win regardless of who it is, so here’s to hoping the season lives up to the hype of being the toughest Club Rugby tournament in the world. After watching the opening matches that took place down under it doesn’t look like there will be too much of a threat from the Aussie conference however the New Zealanders are another story. I have a feeling that the Chiefs will impress this year once again. Anyway here’s to another season of big tackling/goose-stepping/Prop Scoring SUPER RUGBY!!!!