Thinus Delport gives his views on the South African franchises chances in the Super Rugby tournament
Thinus Delport believes the Sharks will be South Africa's main contenders for Super Rugby glory.
Last Updated: 13/02/14 5:23pm
Last season: Lost to the Brumbies in the semi-finals
Head coach: Frans Ludeke
Captain: Pierre Spies
Ground: Loftus Versveld
Best performance: Champions (2007, 2009, 2010)
Forwards: Arno Botha, David Bullbring, Jacques du Plessis, Jacques Engelbrecht, Dean Greyling, Grant Hattingh, Frik Kirsten, Werner Kruger, Wiaan Leibenberg, Bandise Maku, Victor Matfield, Morne Mellett, Bongi Mbonambi, Jono Ross, Deon Stegmann, Pierre Spies, Flip van der Merwe, Callie Visagie, Paul Willemse.
Backs: Bjorn Basson, Ulrich Beyers, Clayton Blommetjies, JJ Engelbrecht, Louis Fouche, Francois Hougaard, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Sampie Mastriet, Waylon Murray, Akona Ndungane, Rudy Paige, Handre Pollard, Jan Serfontein, William Small-Smith, Marcel van der Merwe, Piet van Zyl, Jurgen Visser.
Thinus Delport says: There have been a lot of changes up at Loftus and they have a relatively young and inexperienced side. I think that is why Victor Matfield has decided to come out of retirement and give the team a little bit of leadership and experience. Morne Steyn leaves a big hole at No.10 and the pressure is on for Louis Fouche, and Handre Pollard to step up - they are both very exciting players. I am looking forward to watching the Jan Serfonteein and JJ Englebrecht centre combination working but that is going to rely heavily on the fly-half.
Player to watch: Skipper Pierre Spies has a lot of pressure on him to lead this young Bulls side from the front. He has also lost his spot in the Springbok squad and will want to show Bok coach Heyneke Meyer that he still has it.
Last season: Lost to the Brumbies in the quarter-finals
Head coach: Naka Drotske
Captain: Adriann Strauss
Ground: Free State stadium
Best performance: Sixth (2013)
Forwards: Ryno Barnes, Martin Bezuidenhout, Heinrich Brussow, Jean Cook, Lood de Jager, Rossow de Klerk, Joubert Engelbrecht, Andries Ferreira, Carel Green, Lappies Labuschagne, Ligtoring Landman, AJ le Roux, Hercu Liebenberg, Hilton Lobberts, Teboho Mohoje, Jaco Nepgen, Trevor Nyakane, Caylib Oosthuizen, Coenie Oosthuizen, Boom Prinsloo, Nick Schonert, Adriaan Strauss, Francois Uys, Schalk van der Merwe, Philip van der Walt, Max van Dyk, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Waltie Vermeulen.
Backs: Ryno Benjamin, Francois Brummer, Hennie Daniller, Johan Goosen, Cornal Hendricks, Inus Kritzinger, Willie le Roux, Piet Lindeque, Kevin Luiters, Tian Meyer, Howard Mnisi, Sarel Pretorius, Raymond Rhule, Johann Sadie, Riaan Smit, Francois Venter, Shaun Venter, PJ Vermeulen, Elgar Watts.
Thinus Delport says: I am very excited to see what they can do this year after a superb 2013. I don't think teams gave them enough respect last year and the second year is always tough. They play in such an exciting manner and I am really looking forward to see how Willie le Roux performs this year. Johan Goosen is back from injury and I really hope he can stay injury free this season. Saying that, last season they did not lose that many players to injury and really developed that continuity. Whether they can replicate the defensive effort from last year remains to be seen. The tight five were so impressive last year - not only in the set-piece but getting around to make those big tackles and it will be interesting to see if they can get the same mileage this season. Robert Ebersohn is a big loss for them and Francois Venter coming in has a lot of pressure to replicate that link-man role.
Player to watch: Willie Le Roux played a lot of his games for the Cheetahs on the win but looks to be starting at fullback more this year. Can he have the same impact he had last year?
Last Season: Have replaced Southern Kings in the tournament
Coach: Johan Ackermann
Captain: Warren Whiteley
Ground: Ellis Park
Best performance: Third (2001, when known as the 'Cats')
Forwards: Willie Britz, Robbie Coetzee, Ruan Dreyer, Lourens Erasmus, Ruaan Lerm, Malcom Marx, Rudi Mathee, Derick Minnie, Franco Mostert, Martin Muller, Julian Redelinghuys, Bees Roux, Warwick Tecklenburg, Jacques van Rooyen, Chris van Zyl, Willie Wepener, Francois van der Merwe.
Backs: Michael Bondesio, Marnitz Boshoff, Chrysander Botha, Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Guy Cronje, Ross Cronje, Faf de Klerk, Willie du Plessis, Stokkies Hanekom, Alwyn Hollenbach, Elton Jantjies, Jaco Kriel, Lionel Mapoe, Warwick Tecklenburg, Anthonie Volmink, Warren Whiteley, Willie du Plessis, Deon van Rensburg, Coenie van Wyk.
Thinus Delport says: They are close to my heart but I don't think they have the firepower to really threaten this year. They do have some players with plenty of experience - Derick Minnie, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe but I think front row is a big concern for them and I am not sure how they will cope. They have made some good signings though - Stefan Watermeyer at centre, Warren Whiteley at No.8 and Mapoe is dangerous too and while they may get a win here and there I cannot see them threatening at the top.
Player to watch: Let's hope Elton Jantjies recovers quickly from his injury. This could be a big year for him. There is a lot of interest as to who will take Morne Steyn's spot in the Boks - Lambie looks like the incumbent but who will be next in line?
Last Season: Seventh
Coach: Allister Coetzee
Captain: Schalk Burger
Best performance: Runners-up (2010)
Forwards: Ruan Botha, Schalk Burger, Manuel Carizza, Nizaam Carr, Pat Cilliers, Rynhard Elstadt, Eben Etzebeth, Deon Fourie, Brok Harris, Oliver Kebble, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi, Tiaan Liebenberg, Frans Malherbe, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Siyabonga Ntubeni, Michael Rhodes, De Kock Steenkamp, Duane Vermeulen, Michael Willemse.
Backs: Gio Aplon, Demetri Catrakilis, Kurt Coleman, Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Peter Grant, Nick Groom, Cheslin Kolbe, Godlin Masimla, Jaco Taute, Gary van Aswegen, Michael van der Spuy.
Thinus Delport says: The last three years they have had the best defensive record very low as far as try scoring ability goes. I think that will be their biggest challenge - they can defend their try line but can they go to the other end and score their own tries? They really should have no excuse with the talented backline they have got but I sometimes think that the battle in the front row to give them a decent platform. They have an imposing backrow - Schalk Burger returns to give them strength in depth and Duane Vermeulen is an imposing figure. They have that attacking prowess of Gio Aplon and Cheslin Kolbe in the backs - not the biggest or most imposing players but very potent attackers and they just need to find a distributor to get that second attack going.
Player to watch: I have always enjoyed watching Gio Aplon play - he is such a brilliant counter-attacker and I hope he gets a chance to spark the Stormers attack.
Last Season: Seventh
Coach: Jake White
Captain: Bismarck du Plessis
Ground: Kings Park
Last year's finish: Eighth
Best performance: Runners-up (1996, 2001, 2007, 2012)
Forwards: Lourens Adriaanse, Willem Alberts, Jacques Botes, Anton Bresler, Dale Chadwick, Marcell Coetzee, Kyle Cooper, Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel, Justin Downey, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Monde Hadebe, Wiehan Hay, Wiehahn Herbst, Edwin Hewitt, Ryan Kankowski, Francois Kleinhans, Stephan Lewies, Franco Marais, Peet Marais, Danie Mienie, Tendai Mtawarira, Lubabalo Mtembu, Etienne Oosthuizen, Marco Wentzel.
Backs: Adriaan Esterhuizen, Tyler Fisher, Hansie Graaff, Paul Jordaan, Patrick Lambie, SP Marais, Charl McLeod, Gareth Meikle, Johan Meyer, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndugane, JP Pietersen, Cobus Reinach, Sibusiso Sithole, Francois Steyn, Timothy Swiel, Stefan Ungerer, Jaco van Tonder, Tim Whitehead, Heimar Williams, Fred Zeilinga.
Thinus Delport says: They suffered a lot of injuries last year to key players - Bismarck Du Plesssis, Willem Alberts and Francois Steyn and battled to recover from that. I think they are South Africa's strongest challenger and I think Jake White will bring a lot of structure and will build on what they did in the Currie Cup. I am very excited to see a Pat Lambie-Frans Steyn combination going between 10 and 12 - that will be key for them this year. The only real weakness I see is at 13. Who is going to fill that hole next to Steyn? Paul Jordaan is there. He is quick, and they have the youngster Sibusiso Sithole. JP Pietersen is back from Japan and I would love to see a Steyn/Pietersen centre combination. I am also looking forward to seeing lock Pieter-Steph du Toit develop and former Kings fullback SP Marais show what he can do.
Player to watch: Frans Steyn will be the man to get the Sharks playing to their most potent game plan. He gets big runners running off him and they really missed that last season.
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