The Super Rugby 2020 season is approaching fast, with Friday 31 January being the start of 21 consecutive weeks of action.
Super Rugby 2020: A year of change
In the past, the pre-season chat has all been about travel and the scheduling of games. Now, it is more about the amount of change that each team is facing. From player resources to coaching, the level of change is extraordinary.
Super Rugby 2020
The euphoria of the Springboks winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup has lingered long for South African rugby fans. They will be hoping that some of that momentum spills over into Super Rugby 2020
Ryan Jordan considers the changes each South African team has to deal with in the latest edition of the Southern Hemisphere’s premier club/franchise competition. Included in this is the fact that three of the four teams have new Head Coaches for the Super Rugby 2020 tournament.
Cell C Sharks
The Sharks finished 3rd in the South African Conference and 6th overall in the 2019 Super Rugby competition.
Change of Head Coach
The major change at the Sharks has seen the exit of Head Coach Robert du Preez Snr. A number of stories were in circulation about the negative team culture that has developed in recent years and this would have had a lot to do with the Sharks and the entire Du Preez clan leaving their employ.
Sean Everitt has filled the hot seat. Everitt has been part of the Sharks coaching structures since 2008 and should fit into the role very easily. This will be the biggest test of his career. To make the step up to the highest level of domestic and regional competition. He will be ably supported by David Williams as backs and attack coach and Brent Janse van Rensburg as forwards coach. Luring Janse van Rensburg away from Griquas might prove to be an inspired move. He has a decent history of coaching at Varsity Cup and Currie Cup level and commands a lot of respect from his players.
Most significant player losses are Beast Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Akker van der Merwe, Ruan Botha, Jean-Luc du Preez, Dan du Preez, Robert du Preez Jnr and Andre Esterhuizen.
Incoming players include promising Cheetahs prop Ox Nche, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Madosh Tambwe and Blitzboks star Werner Kok. Younger prospects include the former Matie pairing of flyhalf Jordan Tait and lock Jordan Sesink-Clee.
The Sharks, with new captain Lukhanyo Am at the helm, start their campaign on Friday 31 January at home against the Bulls.
The Stormers were disappointing in 2019. They finished last in the South African conference and 10th overall.
Change of Head Coach
The Stormers and Head Coach Robbie Fleck have also parted ways. The Stormers results under Fleck have fallen short of expectations, especially given the talent they have had available. His place has been filled by current Currie Cup coach John Dobson. Dobson is another coach who has paid his dues. He was Head Coach of the Varsity Cup winning Ikey Tigers.
He then moved on to provincial age-group coaching as the coach of the Western Province u21 team. This was followed by a five-year stint as the Head Coach of the Western Province Currie Cup team. As with Everitt at the Sharks, this presents a large step-up in quality for Dobson. Time will tell if he is up for the challenge, but the extended stint in the Currie Cup would have given him a great base to work off.
What has been interesting has been his comments regarding the Stormers changed tempo. Gone are the days of trying to follow the concept of keeping the ball in play for extended periods as they did under Fleck. Under Dobson, the Stormers will return to a game that relies more on the traditional explosive power used by very many South African teams.
The Stormers most notable player losses would have to be Springboks Eben Etzebeth and Damian de Allende. They have also lost further depth in the likes of JJ Engelbrecht, SP Marais, EW Viljoen, Joshua Stander, Sikumbuzo Notshe and Michael Kimbirai. To offset the loss of regular centers De Allende and Viljoen, they have recorded a small coup with the signing of Wales 97 Test veteran Jamie Roberts.
Wales and British and Irish Lions legend @Jamiehuwroberts will add valuable experience as both a player and mentor for the DHL Stormers in the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby season – https://t.co/JIhJ3iWgsb #iamastormer
— DHL STORMERS (@THESTORMERS) January 16, 2020
The Stormers host the touring Hurricanes at Newlands on 1 February.
The Lions could not replicate their successes over the last three years. The ended up 4th in the South African Conference and 9th overall.
Embed from Getty ImagesChange of Head Coach
The Lions and former Head Coach Swys de Bruin mutually agreed to part ways. No details have been provided as to the reasons for this, although there are a number of rumours in the public space. He has been replaced by Ivan van Rooyen. He has been with the Lions since 2009, working his way through their coaching ranks. Most recently, he has been the Lions Currie Cup coach over the last two seasons. As with Dobson at the Stormers and Everitt at the Sharks, Super Rugby is the next logical step in this career and gives him the opportunity to test his abilities at a much higher level.
The most notable players not turning out at Emirates Airline Park in Super Rugby 2020 are Malcolm Marx, Kwagga Smith, Ruan Combrink, Madosh Tambwe, Ampiwe Dyantyi, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Nic Groom and Stephan Lewies.
The most significant arrivals are former Springbok tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis as well as the very promising Baby Bok flyhalf James Mollentze. The signing of another former Springbok in flanker Willem Alberts might prove to be very fortuitous. Cyle Brink ruptured his Achilles tendon and is likely to miss the bulk of the Super Rugby tournament.
The Lions 2020 campaign starts with a testing away fixture against the Jaguares at Estadio Jose Amalfitani in Argentina.
The Bulls were the most successful South African team in Super Rugby 2019. They ended second in the South African conference behind Argentina’s Jaguares. They also finished 5th overall.
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Retention of Head Coach
The Bulls are the only South African Super Rugby to retain their Head Coach from 2019. This might sound sensible after their relative success last year, but is it? The Bulls started the competition impressively but were fading away towards the end. The nagging thought here is that the Bulls started the competition as a John Mitchell prepared squad and ended it as a Pote Human prepared squad. Human is a yeoman servant of South African rugby. Can he develop a squad to become Super Rugby contenders? Super Rugby 2020 will probably be his last opportunity to prove that.
The Bulls have lost a large number of quality players. Their lock stocks have been especially hard hit, with Lood de Jager, Jason Jenkins, Eli Snyman and RG Snyman moving on. The only arrival to really offset these losses at lock has been the returning Juandre Kruger. Aside from the lock resources they have lost, they have lost Springbok Rugby World Cup squad members such as Handre Pollard, Duane Vermeulen and Jessie Kriel.
Notable arrivals other than former Springbok lock Kruger are Scottish international Josh Strauss, former Springbok flyhalf Morne Steyn and 14-Test Tongan center Nafi Tuitavake. This is a bit thin given the quality that has left.
The Bulls start the season away to the Sharks in Durban on 31 January.
Super Rugby 2020
The big question for each South African team in Super Rugby 2020 is who will adapt to change fastest? Who will have the resources and intellectual property to make a success of the new competition?
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