Super Rugby Unlocked, Round One - teams and predictions
CURRIE CUP IN DISGUISE: There will be a trophy up for grabs on November 21, after seven rounds of the reformatted domestic tournament in South Africa.
However, what is on offer after the second half of the season, in January, is the more prestigious prize – the Currie Cup.
It starts with a single round, home or away, series of matches over seven weeks.
There will be no Final. The winner, of a yet to be confirmed trophy, will be the team with the most number of tournament points after the seven rounds.
There will follow another seven rounds of reversed fixtures, which will culminate in semifinals (January 16) and a Final on January 23.
It all starts on Friday, when the Sharks host the Lions in Durban.
Saturday the Cheetahs are at home to the Pumas and the Bulls host Griquas.
The match of the weekend is at Kings Park.
The Sharks were the form team and top of the overall standings when Super Rugby was halted in March.
The Lions were stuck at the other end of the table.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt said he expects Friday’s match to be of “Super Rugby standard”.
However, the Lions squad has changed considerably since March, with a number of new recruits.
(Continue below … )
“For this game, they have moved away from their DNA, where continuity and ball-in-hand was their priority,” Everitt said.
He added that the selection of former Sharks stalwart Willem Alberts at lock and three bigger loose forwards also suggest the Lions will produce “something different”.
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen admitted that starting with two away matches it presents a ‘challenge’ to the Lions.
However, they see it as the start of a new era for the Lions.
“However, the talking needs to happen on the field,” the Lions mentor said.
He admitted that the Sharks topped the log for a reason and spoke of the physicality of the Sharks pack.
The one area where the Lions really struggled in the SuperFan day against the Stormers was the scrums – with the all-Springbok front row at times toying with the Lions.
Van Rooyen admitted some of the changes were an effort to improve the set pieces.
“To go up against Frans [Malherbe] and Kitzie [Steven Kitshoff] – arguably the best scrummagers in the world – was a good test to see where we are.
“Carlu [Sadie – Lions tighthead] and Ox [Retshegofaditswe Nché – Sharks loosehead] had a great battle [in the Springbok trial at Newlands] last week and Friday will be another big challenge.
“Wiehahn [Herbst] is a good scrummager that had a long stint in Europe.”
* The Cheetahs, after being unceremoniously and controversially dumped from the Pro14, have made no secret of the fact that winning the Currie Cup is their priority.
With the double-barrel nature of the competitions the Cheetahs need to start collecting points from the outset and will look to their two Springbok veterans – Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar for direction.
Steyn, one of only two South Africans to have lifted the Webb Ellis Cup twice, will make his debut for the Cheetahs.
Pienaar will captain the side.
* The weekend’s final match will see the Jake White-coached Bulls at home against a Griquas team bristling with talent, but an unknown factor in terms of form.
Their two defeats in pre-season matches have not given much away.
The new Bulls coach, White, has been saying for some time the winning games and trophies are now priorities for the Pretoria franchise.
“It’s been months of preparation and weeks of training – with the players and management excited to get going,” White said.
“We have a mission, we’ve set high standards and now is the time for the Bulls to stamp their authority on the this competition,” added White, who is also the franchise’s Director of Rugby.
“The experience amongst our players allows us to implement our game plan quickly and with a solid foundation.
“I’m extremely excited for all the players making their debuts and looking forward to watching them grow.”
The Super Rugby Unlocked champion will be the team with the most log points at the end of the competition (a single round of seven matches per team) concluding on 21 November 2020.
In the event of two or more teams being equal on log points for any position on the standings, either during or at the end of the season, such position will be decided upon using the following steps until the tie is broken:
a) Most wins from all matches;
b) Highest aggregate points difference from all matches;
c) Most tries from all matches;
d) Highest aggregate difference of total tries for versus tries scored against from all matches;
e) Coin toss.
Win: Four points
Draw: Two points
Loss: No points for loss by more than seven points
Bonus: One point for loss by seven points or fewer
Bonus: One point for scoring three tries or more than opponent
Round One predictions and teams
Friday, October 9
Sharks v Lions
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
The Sharks have won their last three Super Rugby games on the bounce against the Lions after having lost each of their seven encounters prior; the last – and only previous – time the Sharks won more consecutive games against the Lions was a five-game stretch from 2007 to 2011.
The Sharks have won their last four Super Rugby games on the bounce coming into Super Rugby Unlocked: it’s their longest winning streak since a stretch of six wins across the 2015 and 2016 campaigns.
The Lions have lost their last four away South African derbies in Super Rugby in a row after having been undefeated in their previous 11.
The Sharks gained 387 metres and beat 23 defenders per game in the 2020 Super Rugby season, the most of any South African team in either category.
Elton Jantjies (Lions) has finished with a try assist in four of his last five Super Rugby encounters with the Sharks.
However, he’s not scored a try of his own in that time and has managed a tally of just 27 points in that span.
@rugby365com: Sharks by eight points
Sharks: 15 Manie Libbok, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Werner Kok, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Phepsi Buthelezi, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Dylan Richardson, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Mpilo Gumede, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Thaakir Abrahams.
Lions: 15 EW Viljoen, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 Dillon Smit, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole.
Replacements – from: Jan-Henning Campher, Dylan Smith, Wiehahn Herbst, Wilhelm van der Sluys, MJ Pelser, Hacjivah Dayimani, Morné van den Berg, Gianni Lombard, Wandisile Simelane, Ruan Dreyer.
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant referees: Paul Mente, Archie Sehlako
TMO: Rasta Rasivhenge
Saturday, October 10
Cheetahs v Pumas
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 16.30; 14.30 GMT)
The Cheetahs have opened only one of their last 10 Super Rugby campaigns with a win (2015 v Sharks), despite not trailing at half-time in any of their last four season openers.
The Cheetahs will be looking to snare back-to-back wins against fellow South African opponents in Super Rugby for the first time since 2013, after picking up a 21-20 win over the Kings in their last national derby in the competition in 2017.
The Pumas are set to become the eighth South African team to contest a Super Rugby fixture; each of the last two South African teams to enter the competition have won their maiden games (Cats, Kings).
The Pumas conceded just 6.5 offloads per game in the 2019 Currie Cup, the fewest of any team in the competition.
They made 7.2 offloads per game of their own in that time.
Two of the three players to steal seven or more line-outs throughout the 2019/20 PRO14 campaign were Cheetahs’ duo Junior Pokomela (eight) and Sintu Manjezi (seven).
@rugby365com: Cheetahs by 25 points
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Malcolm Jaer, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar (captain), 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Aidon Davis, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 William Small-Smith.
Pumas: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Luther Obi, 13 Wayne van der Bank, 12 Ryan Nell (captain), 11 Neil Maritz, 10 Eddie Fouche, 9 Ginter Smuts, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Kwanda Dimaza, 6 Daniel Maartens, 5 Cameron Lindsay, 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Ruan Kramer, 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 1 Morgan Naude.
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Liam Hendricks, 18 Dewald Maritz, 19 Darrien Landsburg, 20 Jeandre Rudolph, 21 Dian Badenhorst, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Ruwellyn Isbell.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Griffin Colby and Ben Crouse
TMO: Stuart Berry
Bulls v Griquas
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT)
The Bulls have won their opening game of a Super Rugby season in only two of their last seven campaigns, after having won their first game of the year in the competition every season from 2008 to 2013.
The Bulls have won their last five Super Rugby games when hosting fellow South African opponents: their longest winning streak against their countrymen since a 10-game stretch from 2012 to 2014.
The Griquas are set to become the ninth South African team to contest a Super Rugby game; 12 of the 18 teams to have faced the Bulls in the competition have lost to the Pretoria side in their first-ever encounter.
The Griquas struck 87 percent of their total goal kicks successfully in the 2019 Currie Cup, the highest success rate of any team in the competition; on average they were the only team to miss fewer than one goal per game for the season.
Nizaam Carr (Bulls) has scored five of his last seven tries in Super Rugby against fellow South African teams; four of those tries were scored in home fixtures.
@rugby365com: Bulls by 18 points
Bulls: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 David Kriel, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Arno Botha (captain), 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Elrigh Louw, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren.
Griquas: 15 Anthony Volmink, 14 Daniel Kasende, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 André Swarts, 11 James Verity-Amm, 10 George Whitehead (captain), 9 Zak Burger, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Carl Els, 5 Victor Sekekete, 4 Ian Groenewald, 3 John-Roy Jenkinson, 2 HJ Luus, 1 Mox Mxoli.
Replacements – from: Alandre van Rooyen, Bandisa Ndlovu, Madot Mabokela, Adre Smith, Zandre Jordaan, Gideon van der Merwe, Ashon Davids, Berton Klaasen, Mzwanele Zito, Johan Momsen, Bjorn Basson.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Aimee Barrett-Theron, Morné Ferreira
TMO: Cwengile Jadezweni
* Stats provided by Opta Sports