Kolisi to lead World Cup elite in Soweto
PRE-SEASON SPOTLIGHT: World Cup-winning Springbok captain Siyamthanda Kolisi will lead an array of stars out at Soccer City in Soweto next Sunday.
The occasion is the second annual Super Sunday pre-season outing, the final hit-out for South African teams before the Super Rugby season gets underway at the end of the month.
The inspirational Bok skipper, Kolisi, will be among the numerous World Cup champions that will take to the field on January 19.
“That’s the plan,” said Stormers coach John Dobson, who expects to give all his other World Cup stars, bar the injured Pieter-Steph du Toit (shoulder), their first run against the Sharks.
“Pieter-Steph has a slight shoulder [niggle],” the Stormers mentor said at a media briefing this week.
“I don’t think he [Du Toit] will make [the] Super Sunday [game], but he’ll be fine for [the tournament opener on] February 1 [against the Hurricanes].”
Dobson said the Bok skipper has brought ‘massive energy’ to the team’s pre-season training.
The Stormers face the Sharks in the first of the double-header Super Sunday matches.
Dobson, like other SA coaches, is preparing for a full-blown physical contest, knowing that anything less will leave his team underdone for the Super Rugby season.
Pote Human, the Bulls coach, was taken aback by the suggestion their match against Trans-Jukskei rivals the Lions might be anything other than a full-scale physical contest.
“This is the Jukskei derby,” he chuckled, when asked about the rivalry against the Lions – the second of the two matches.
World Cup player Warrick Gelant will likely start, although a niggly hamstring injury is likely to keep out Trevor Nyakane, the popular prop.
The Lions, meanwhile, will rely on their playmaker Elton Jantjies, still basking in the afterglow of South Africa’s World Cup triumph two months ago.
New coach Ivan van Rooyen is understandably keen to take an early look at how his players shape up, particularly as his speciality is conditioning.
“It’s an opportunity to let the players test their conditioning and to get some contact,” he said of the match against the Bulls.
He is mindful, too, of the need to contribute to the day’s entertainment and is likely to give his players the freedom to play instinctively.
The Sharks are adopting a similar approach.
It means the likes of Makazole Mapimpi, try-scorer in South Africa’s 32-12 demolition of England in the World Cup Final, and Lukhanyo Am will be in a Sharks backline stacked with power and athleticism.
Coach Sean Everitt is enthusiastic about be playing in Soweto.
“It’s always exciting to be playing in an international quality stadium and it will be a first for most of the players,” Everitt said.
“We are looking forward to the occasion and the top-class rugby on offer will be a treat for fans.”
The Bulls will be without match-winner Handre Pollard, who has moved to France, but there may be a familiar name in the No.10 jersey – as Morné Steyn makes his return in the Bulls.
Several other veterans will also turn out next weekend, among them Juandre Kruger and Josh Strauss, both back in South Africa after long stints in Europe.
Human expects the World Cup success to put pressure on the SA teams, but he says this status can only help, rather than hinder, SA ambitions.
“We are the best in the world and we must play like it,” Human said.
For Dobson, the World Cup win demonstrated how well South Africa plays with a physical pack.
It means the likes of Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe, the World Cup hard men, to be given top billing next weekend.
“We’ve been lured in the past into playing multi-phase stuff, which takes away our power,” Dobson explains, suggesting that a return to tradition might be the key.
Dobson is also adamant that a home play-off is vital, more so that Newlands is on its last legs as a home base for the Stormers.
“That would be a great farewell,” he said.
Ahead of next weekend’s match, Dobson said his players are excited, especially after the success of last year’s event in Cape Town.
“They like the day and the occasion, and playing in Soweto adds a great dimension. We expect it to be hard too – getting the hard knocks is important so that we aren’t shocked by the intensity of the Hurricanes [in our first Super Rugby match].”
Everitt, citing consistency as the chief element he wants to see from the Sharks, says that the Lions have pointed the way in the past four years.
That is why he has no doubt that SA teams can rise to the occasion.
Next weekend thus allows him the best opportunity to see how effective the off-season has been.
Van Rooyen will be using the success of the Springboks to encourage his team to follow suit in Super Rugby.
“We have to learn every week and adapt to the weekly challenges quickly and wisely.”
The Sharks and Stormers will get the action underway at 13.00, followed by the match between the Bulls and Lions at 15.15.