After a ‘long’ off-season, the wait is finally over as Super Rugby returns this weekend with two matches from the Republic. The tournament kicks off in Cape Town on Saturday night with a match between the Stormers and the Jaguares followed by last year’s runners-up, the Lions hosting the Sharks. Given the reduction in teams from 18 to 15, you would expect teams to be more competitive this season, but it is important to tread lightly in the first couple of weeks given that it might take time for some of these teams to gel and adapt their fitness levels to the intensity of live match play. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the two matches, before we see a full complement (7 games) of fixtures next week. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for insight, other plays or just for a chat.
STORMERS ($1.27) VS JAGUARES ($3.80)
The 23rd edition of Super Rugby gets underway on Saturday night with a match between the Stormers and the Jaguares at Newlands in Cape Town. The Stormers were losing quarterfinalists to the Chiefs (11-17) in 2017, whereas, the Jaguares improved in their second season, but still failed to qualify for the business end. The Stormers and the Jaguares have come up against each other on two occasions (2016 and 2017) with the men from Cape Town victorious in both, with the most recent fixture at Newlands yielding a 32-25 result to the home team.
Predicted result: Stormers to win @ $1.27 – Sportsbet
LIONS ($1.33) VS SHARKS ($3.30)
The second and final match of round one sees the Lions host the Sharks at Ellis Park, last year’s Final venue. The Lions will be smarting having lost their second successive Super Rugby Final last year to the Crusaders, despite finishing the regular season as the number one ranked team. The Sharks scraped into the playoff picture and almost beat the Lions in the Quarterfinal, only to go down (21-23) as a result of a monstrous Ruan Combrinck penalty kick in the dying moments of the match. Notably, the Lions are currently riding a six-match win streak over the Sharks dating back to 2015.
The Lions once again missed their golden opportunity to win their first ever Super Rugby title last year and head into this season under the guidance of a new panel of coaches and without a handful of their stalwarts (either departed or injured). In saying that, their depth has been one of their key strengths in recent years and the return of captain and number eight Warren Whiteley will offset some of those losses. The Lions play a very attractive brand of rugby and they have been afforded that right from being able to set a strong platform up-front. Malcolm Marx (hooker), Franco Mostert (lock) and Kwagga Smith (flanker) are all world-class players that will play a key role for the home team. Pressure will also be on Ross Cronje (halfback) and Elton Jantjies (flyhalf) and Andries Coetzee (fullback) who fell out of favour with the national team after strong Super Rugby season’s last year.
Looking at the Sharks, many South African rugby fans believe they will be the team to beat in their Conference this year. The men from Durban made some good progress in Super Rugby last year under coach Robert du Preez and then as beaten finalists in the Currie Cup. The pack is missing some quality up front with the likes of Tendai Mtawawira and Dan du Preez named on the bench and Jean-Luc du Preez remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Cameron Wright and Rob du Preez form an inexperienced halves pairing and will need to find a way to make room for the dangerous outside back trio of Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi and Lwazi Mvovo.
The Lions will be looking to get their faithful fans engaged early in this year’s competition and I think that will start with a round-one victory over a Sharks team that will strengthen as the competition progresses. Unofficially, I will back the Lions at the line (-8.5) as they are the more settled unit.
Predicted result: Lions to win @ $1.33 – Sportsbet