Super Rugby fact file: South African conference one
Penpix of the South African conference one teams playing in this season’s Super Rugby series, which starts on Friday:
BULLS (formerly Blue Bulls)
Coach: Nollis Marais
Captain: Adriaan Strauss
Stadium: Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
Best finish: Champions (2007, 2009, 2010)
The three-time champions have a new coach in Nollis Marais and have lost a host of star players, including Springboks locks Victor Matfield and Flip du Plessis, and utility back Francois Hougaard. Arguably their biggest setback is an injury to Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard who will miss the entire season. Marais introduced a more attacking style to the Bulls’ Currie Cup provincial side last season and though his backs will include the exciting Jesse Kriel, the Bulls may struggle among the forwards, traditionally one of their strengths.
FREE STATE CHEETAHS
Coach: Franco Smith
Captain: Francois Venter
Stadium: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Best finish: Quarter-finalists (2013)
The Cheetahs have long been over-achievers, but new coach Franco Smith will have to do without the likes of Heinrich Brussow, Coenie Oosthuizen and livewire backs Willie le Roux, Joe Pietersen and Sarel Pretorius. Promising additions to the roster are Sias Ebersohn, who is back from a sojourn in Australia, and fellow backs Fred Zeilinga and William Small-Smith. Likely to score a few upsets, the Cheetahs may struggle to mount a sustained challenge.
STORMERS (formerly Western Stormers)
Coach: Robbie Fleck
Co-captains: Frans Malherbe, Juan de Jongh
Stadium: Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Best finish: Runners-up (2010)
The Stormers lost their newly appointed coach Eddie Jones to the England job without a ball being kicked and they eventually settled on former Springbok centre Robbie Fleck, previously the team’s backline coach, to guide the side. While leading players such as Jean de Villiers, Duane Vermeulen, Steven Kitshoff and Demetri Catrakilis are no longer available, on the credit side they have gained talented lock Pieter-Steph du Toit, who could form a formidable partnership with Eben Etzebeth, and scrum-half Jano Vermaak as they again seem set to contend for the play-offs.
Coach: Mark Hammett
Captain: Shota Horie
Stadium: Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, Tokyo
Best finish: First appearance
The Tokyo-based franchise are one of three new Super Rugby teams this season and can expect a rude welcome to the competition when they take their bow in the competition at home to the Golden Lions on Saturday. After failing to lure Japan’s top World Cup stars, lengthy delays in naming their playing and coaching squad hampered the team’s preparations and it promises to be a long, hard season for head coach Mark Hammett. The Sunwolves will split their home games between Tokyo and Singapore as they rack up the air miles.