Of debutants and records – Vodacom Super Rugby Round 1 Preview

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Vodacom Super Rugby kicks off with a bang in Bloemfontein on Saturday when the first round gets underway with a South African derby between 2013 top sixers the Toyota Cheetahs and the newly restored Lions at the Free State Stadium.

Shortly after the final whistle, it’s then the Cell C Sharks hosting the Vodacom Bulls at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban in a replay of the 2007 final.

No fewer than 17 players without any Vodacom Super Rugby experience have been selected in the four match-day squads. Of these, 10 are on the various benches, meaning only seven debutants will start, which equates to a mere 4.1% of the players in their respective starting line-ups this weekend will be getting their first taste of rugby at this level.

Of the four franchises in action – the DHL Stormers have a bye – the Lions have the most debutants in their match-day squad of 23, namely 11. Six of them will start with a further five on the bench – they are Chryzander Botha, Marnitz Boshoff, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe, Jacques van Rooyen, Willie Britz, Warwick Tecklenburg, Faf de Klerk and Coenie van Wyk.

The Toyota Cheetahs have one uncapped starter in their squad, SA Sevens Player of the Year in 2013 Cornal Hendricks, and one on the bench in former SA Under-20 prop Maks van Dyk, while the Cell C Sharks and Vodacom Bulls have two debutants each on the bench – Stephan Lewies and Heimar Williams for the Durbanites, and Handré Pollard and Ulrich Beyers for the team from Pretoria.

At the other end of the spectrum Victor Matfield, who is on the Vodacom Bulls’ bench after a two-year hiatus from the game, will equal the South African Vodacom Super Rugby record of 125 appearances at this level, which is currently shared by John Smit, now CEO of the Cell C Sharks, and AJ Venter, who played for the Cats, Sharks and Stormers.

The DHL Stormers have a bye this weekend. Unlike in recent seasons, they will not get any log points though after SANZAR announced on Thursday that no more bye-points will be awarded to teams not in action over a specific weekend.

Apart from two byes, all teams will still play 16 regular season matches – eight at home and eight on the road. There will be eight local derbies for each side, as well as eight matches against teams in the other two conferences.

Note: The 2014 Vodacom Super Rugby Media Guide (size: 9.5Mb) can be downloaded in PDF-format by clicking here.

For all the South African team announcements, fixtures, results, logs, live score updates, top points and try scorers as well as and match summaries, click here.

Toyota Cheetahs v Lions

The Lions travel to Bloemfontein for their first match back in Vodacom Super Rugby after not competing at this level in 2013, to face their former partners in the Cats-franchise, the Toyota Cheetahs.

The team from Central South Africa surprised friend and foe alike last year when they reached the Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs for the first time ever, an achievement they want to repeat in 2014.

“We’re definitely under pressure to repeat our achievements from last year, but at the same time I want to say that we’ve also gained a lot of confidence and belief from 2013 in that we know we can reach the playoffs,” said Naka Drotské, coach of the Toyota Cheetahs.

“So we’re rather under positive pressure – our supporters and sponsors now know we can compete with the top six teams in the competition and we don’t want to disappoint them.”

According to Toyota Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss, who was on Wednesday evening named South Africa’s Vodacom Super Rugby Player of the Year for 2013, they are not overconfident going into the 2014-season.

“We want to bring with us the positivity and energy from last year’s competition,” said Strauss. “But the intensity with which we’ll play is still in our own hands.”

The Lions would like to start the season on a high. Two years ago, they kicked off the 2012 season with a good victory over the Toyota Cheetahs (27-25), but that was in Johannesburg. They also beat the Cell C Sharks and the Rebels at Ellis Park that season.

They have tasted success at the Free State Stadium though – in 2011 by 25-20, when the Lions also won on the road in Canberra and Dunedin.

The teams are:

Toyota Cheetahs: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks*, Johann Sadie, Francois Venter#, Raymond Rhule, Johan Goosen, Shaun Venter#, Philip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo, Francois Uys, Lood de Jager, Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Caylib Oosthuizen#. Replacements: Ryno Barnes, Trevor Nyakane, Rynard Landman, Jean Cook#, Sarel Pretorius, Elgar Watts, Ryno Benjamin, Maks van Dyk*.

Lions: Chryzander Botha*, Deon van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Stefan Watermeyer#, Ruan Combrinck, Marnitz Boshoff*, Michael Bondesio, Warren Whiteley (captain), Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Franco Mostert*, Julian Redelinghuys*, Robbie Coetzee*, Schalk van der Merwe*. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Jacques van Rooyen*, Ruan Dreyer, Willie Britz*, Warwick Tecklenburg*, Faf de Klerk*, Alwyn Hollenbach, Coenie van Wyk*.

* Uncapped at Vodacom Super Rugby level
# Franchise debut

Toyota Cheetahs v Lions
Date: Saturday, 15 February
SA Time: 17h05
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Francois de Bruyn (South Africa)
Television match official: Johan Greeff (South Africa)

Cell C Sharks v Vodacom Bulls

Many pundits consider the South African derby between the Cell C Sharks and the Vodacom Bulls as one of the biggest in Vodacom Super Rugby, and will always look back at the 2007 final between these teams as arguably the most-exciting in the history of the competition.

Last year, the Vodacom Bulls won the South African Conference, but lost in the semi-final against the Brumbies. The architect of that famous victory by the team from the Australian Capital Territory, Jake White, has since taken over as Director of Rugby in Durban and will be plotting his second successive win over the team from Pretoria in this competition.

White has taken over a team that finished last season on a high when they won the Absa Currie Cup final in Cape Town. This victory, and a team sheet brimming with experienced Springboks, would’ve given the Cell C Sharks a good shot of confidence ahead of Saturday’s match.

However, the Vodacom Bulls can’t be underestimated, despite losing heaps of players in the last two seasons and being hit by injuries to key personnel. After all, they beat the Cell C Sharks twice in 2013 and have a winning record of 60% at Growthpoint Kings Park.

“You know what the Bulls are going to do in terms of their style of play – they have been doing it for years,” said White.

“They are going to kick from the base of the scrum and they are going to kick from the base of lineout. They will maul from lineouts. They are going to try and physically dominate you in first 25 minutes to see if they can get some ascendancy. I can’t believe they will move away from what has worked for them in the past.

“Let’s take nothing away from the Bulls, they’ve won the competition three times and that’s more than any other South African side. The challenge that we sit with is if we’re not good enough to beat the Bulls at home in this round, the chances are we will struggle against the likes of the Blues and Crusaders in Auckland and Christchurch. That’s what it takes to win this competition, you have to beat teams like that and the Bulls at home.”

Frans Ludeke, coach of the Vodacom Bulls, was confident that he picked the right combinations for the opening match.

“We have identified certain areas where we will have to dominate and I think we have the right combinations in place to achieve that,” said Ludeke. “This is going to be a typical South African derby with a lot of focus on the breakdown and to dominate the advantage line.

“We respect the Sharks, but if we are accurate and play our rugby in the right areas of the field, we should get some reward for that. Our focus will be to execute and to make sure that we protect our ball, as the Sharks will be keen to counter whenever we turn over possession.”

On Matfield’s inclusion, Ludeke said: “We all know what Victor is capable of. He showed in training and our friendly match that he is still right up there amongst the best and I am confident that he will make a telling contribution when called upon.”

Vodacom Bulls captain Pierre Spies said his side does not mind going to Durban as underdogs: “The Sharks should be one of the pre-tournament favourites. They have a lot of Springboks in their team, have loads of experience in the decision-making positions and will be playing in front of a very passionate crowd.

“This is exactly the type of challenges we like as a team and will go to Durban with a lot of determination and motivation. We have some goals to achieve and worked hard to make sure we are ready to compete against any team at any venue. The younger guys in our team bring a lot of energy to our effort and I am pretty pleased to have them in my side, rather than playing against them,” Spies said.

The teams are:

Cell C Sharks: SP Marais#, Odwa Ndungane, Paul Jordaan, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Anton Bresler, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (captain), Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse#, Stephan Lewies*, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Heimar Williams*, S’bura Sithole.

Vodacom Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Louis Fouché, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies (captain), Jacques du Plessis, Jono Ross, Flip van der Merwe, Paul Willemse, Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Frik Kirsten, Marcel van der Merwe#, Victor Matfield, Jacques Engelbrecht#, Piet van Zyl#, Handrè Pollard*, Ulrich Beyers*.

* Uncapped at Vodacom Super Rugby level
# Franchise debut

Cell C Sharks v Vodacom Bulls
Date: Saturday, 15 February
SA Time: 19h10
Venue: Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)

Bye: Stormers

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