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Super Rugby – South African Conference Guide

SA Conference: The Lions and Sharks played on of the games of the tournament in 2017, and both made the playoffs. They will both look to repeat that in 2018 (Getty Images) Rugby World

The exodus of South African players continued in the off-season, but these five teams are looking to show they are still forces to be reckoned with


Super Rugby – South African Conference Guide

The 2018 Super Rugby competition is going to look very different from its 2017 edition with three less teams, law changes and a new format. To find out more about those changes, visit our Super Rugby explained article.

Lets take a look at the teams in the South African conference all vying for victory this year.

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Bulls

The Bulls, once a powerhouse of a Super Rugby team, haven’t made the play-offs since 2013 and had a truly dismal year in 2017 with four wins and 11 losses. For a team that is used to success – they won three titles in four years between 2007 and 2010 – this will not be acceptable to the rugby-mad fans in Pretoria.

The man tasked with righting the ship is new coach John Mitchell, who has a long list of coaching jobs, the most recent of which was with the United States national team.

But he has a difficult job ahead of him as the South African player exodus continues, most notably Jan Serfontein leaving for Montpellier in the Top 14. 

French relocation: After several years anchoring the Bulls midfield, Serfontein has taken his talents overseas (Getty Images) Rugby World

Notable Ins

Marnitz Boshoff (Connacht)

Notable Outs

Arno Botha (London Irish), Jacques Potgieter (sabbatical), Jan Serfontein (Montpellier)

Prediction

Will struggle to make the play-offs

Jaguares

The Jaguares were an exciting team to watch in 2017 and with players like Nicolas Sanchez and Juan Martin Hernandez still in their squad, there is no reason to think 2018 will be any different.

Argentine scrummaging legend Mario Ledesma is the new coach after a stint as forwards coach for Australia, and he will have to make sure they play with the same flair and creativity which nearly got them into the play-offs last season.

Running the Show: Nicolas Sanchez will be the man responsible to run the Jaguares attacking back-line (Getty Images) Rugby World

Notable Ins

Tomas Cubelli (Brumbies)

Notable Outs

Santiago Cordero (Exeter Chiefs), Ramiro Herrera (Stade Francais), Lucas Noguera Paz (Bath)

Prediction

After seven wins and eight losses in 2017, they were middle of the pack. 2018 will be no different.

Lions

Unquestionably the best South African side in the last two Super Rugby tournaments, the Lions were close to unbeatable last year. With 14 wins and one loss during the regular season, they ensured home advantage throughout the play-offs.

During the semis they beat a tough Hurricanes side then faced the Crusaders in the final, and had it not been for Kwagga Smith’s red card for tackling David Havili in the air, they might have won the title.

Coach Johan Ackermann and his son Ruan have since gone to Premiership side Gloucester and scrum-half Faf de Klerk has joined Sale. All three leave big shoes to fill so it will be interesting to see if they continue to be so dominant.

Swys de Bruin has been promoted from an assistant role to the head coaching job.

Like father, like son: Ruan and Johan Ackermann are now at Gloucester (Photo by Getty Images) Rugby World

Notable Ins

None

Notable Outs

Ruan Ackermann (Gloucester), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks)

Prediction

With some real quality still in place, the Lions will be disappointed if they don’t make the play-offs.

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Sharks

On the face of it, it looks like the Sharks have lost too many good players to be as competitive as last year, where they qualified in the final play-off spot with nine wins, five losses and a draw.

But in some positions the losses may be blessings in disguise. For example, the absence of Patrick Lambie is negated by the emergence of young star Curwin Bosch, who made the No 10 jersey his own last year.

Springbok scrum-half Louis Schreuder has also been signed to cover the loss of Cobus Reinach, so bearing these changes in mind, the Sharks will still be a tough team to beat.

Young Springbok: Curwin Bosch has a monster boot (Getty Images) Rugby World

Notable Ins

Louis Schreuder (Kings)

Notable Outs

Jean Deysel (Ulster), Patrick Lambie (Racing 92), Odwa Ndungane (retired), Clement Poitrenaud (retired), Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints)

Prediction

They are a dark-horse team, and will be strong enough to get into the play-offs provided no key players get injured.

Stormers

The Stormers had ten wins and five losses in 2017, which booked a play-off spot, and should have beaten the Chiefs but for a late try by Shaun Stevenson. It was a disappointing end to the season.

As a result, the Cape Town-based side have been very active in the off-season after losing four of their key back-line players, with the departures of Juan de Jongh and Cheslin Kolbe being particularly damaging. Bjorn Basson has also left to become a medical joker for Oyonnax in France.

Related: Medical Jokers in the Top 14

However, they have signed Springboks JJ Engelbrecht and Raymond Rhule, and both are more then capable replacements.

Finally, Eben Etzebeth was due to continue his captaincy role, but injuries to his back and shoulder have meant he will miss the majority of the season which is a huge loss. Therefore Siya Kolisi will likely take up captain’s duties.

Big loss: The injury to Eben Etzebeth will keep him out until at least May (Getty Images) Rugby World

Notable Ins

JJ Engelbrecht (Toyota Industries Shuttle), Steven Kitshoff (Bordeaux), Sergeal Petersen (Cheetahs), Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs)

Notable Outs

Bjorn Basson (Oyonnax), Juan de Jongh (Wasps), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse)

Prediction

Middle-of-the-pack team, but if their experienced stars don’t perform they could be bottom of this group.