For quite a while, people have been asking me why I don’t write a sort of rugby prediction column, since I am so obsessed (to put it mildly). I’ve resisted for two reasons. Firstly, I may be passionate about the sport, but I’m certainly no expert. I can’t always explain all the technicalities, and with all the changes happening in Super Rugby this season, I think it’s about to get even more complicated. And secondly, and probably most importantly, I lack any ability to be objective. This is the same reason I refused to play SuperBru for many years. I will ALWAYS say the Sharks (and Springboks) will win. It doesn’t matter what stats, experts and logic suggest. I simply cannot say they will lose. This made for a very sad SuperBru season for me last year, but anyway. I will also typically say that the Bulls will lose, just because I really want them to (see, no objectivity), but I am prepared to work on that.
So this is the first of what will hopefully be a quick weekly roundup of how I think the Sharks will do in the coming weekend’s Super Rugby action, and I’ll include my SuperBru predictions for all the games. Feel free to point and laugh when I get it wrong. And take it all with a pinch of salt, given the two points above.
The Sharks are coming into this Super Rugby season with a lot to prove. Last year was hard for even the most ardent fan to watch, as the wheels seemed to come off entirely. However, they played two very good warm up games in France, with the performance against Toulouse being particularly inspiring, especially when you consider the relative ‘newness’ of the starting line-up. The Sharks have lost some of their most experienced players to overseas contracts, and have also suffered a massive injury blow, with Patrick Lambie, Francois Kleinhans and Ruan Botha all out for 12 weeks, Jacques Potgieter out for six to eight weeks, and Giant Mtyanda and Renaldo Bothma out for at least three weeks each, but I think it is safe to say that they have the depth to play around those losses. Probably the loss of captain, Patrick Lambie, who has had some serious bad luck on the injuries front over the last few years, has been the greatest cause of the gnashing of fans’ teeth. But Garth April certainly showed his worth at flyhalf in the game against Toulouse, once he had shaken off the initial jitters, Joe Pietersen provides the experienced option in this position, and there is also enough leadership material to take over the captaincy.
Although there have been more than a few occasions in the past when the Sharks have surprised everyone by losing to unexpected teams in the opening round, when you factor in the absolutely tumultuous time the Kings have been going through over the last few months, I think the Sharks can be pretty confident of a solid victory.
The Sharks team to face the Southern Kings on Saturday is:
15. Willie Le Roux; 14. Odwa Ndungane; 13. Paul Jordaan; 12. Andre Esterhuizen; 11. Lwazi Mvovo; 10. Joe Pietersen; 9. Cobus Reinach; 8. Daniel du Preez; 7. Jean-Luc du Preez; 6. Marcell Coetzee; 5. Hyron Andrews; 4. Etienne Oosthuizen; 3. Coenie Oosthuizen; 2. Franco Marais; 1. Tendai Mtawarira (Captain)
Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper; 17. Juan Schoeman; 18. Lourens Adriaanse; 19. Dave McDuling; 20. Philip van der Walt; 21. Michael Claassens; 22. Garth April; 23. S’bura Sithole
My SuperBru picks for round one are (times shown are South African):
Blues v Highlanders (26 Feb 08:35) Highlanders by 3
Brumbies v Hurricanes (26 Feb 10:40) Brumbies by 7
Cheetahs v Jaguares (26 Feb 19:00) Jaguares by 5
Sunwolves v Lions (27 Feb 06:15) Lions by 12
Crusaders v Chiefs (27 Feb 08:35) Crusaders by 2
Waratahs v Reds (27 Feb 10:40) Waratahs by 8
Force v Rebels (27 Feb 12:50) Force by 3
Kings v Sharks (27 Feb 15:00) Sharks by 18
Stormers v Bulls (27 Feb 17:05) Stormers by 4