Stormers the enigma of SA
The Stormers are truly the 'enigma' of South African rugby.
If the Sharks are the most successful team never to have won Super Rugby, the Stormers are the most promising outfit never to have reached their full potential.
Just one Final in 25 years of Super Rugby (including the Super 10) suggests the team with the most talent-laden feeder zone in the country, has not lived up to its promises.
"Next year is our year," has become a staple response from the cacophonous Cape Town fans.
One of the most apt descriptions – courtesy of reader DanGP – is that they are sold off the menu as the "finest Cape vintage", but often turn out to be no more than a "papsak".
* For the uninformed: Papsak, directly translated, means 'flat bag' and is a description of the silver foiled bag inside a box of wine – simply put, a cheap vintage.
There is no doubt the enormous amount of talent that emanates from the Western Cape and particularly the massively competitive school system.
However, that talent has yet to be converted into championship team outside of domestic competitions like the Currie Cup.
That is why we ask the question again: 'Will 2018 be the year of the Stormers?'
The Stormers' Director of Rugby, Gert Smal, said they are "excited" about the depth of talent they have at their disposal.
"It is important that we keep on moving forward in terms of our results, playing style and composure in all areas," Smal said.
They certainly did not receive any favours from the organisers when the draw was made.
The Stormers start at home, against the Jaguares, before they set off on a murderous Australasia tour – which sees them face the Waratahs (in Sydney), the Crusaders (Christchurch) and Highlanders (Dunedin).
Not even the home game against the under-performing Jaguares is a given.
It will require a special effort not to start with four successive defeats.
To come back from that will be tough, but if any team can do it, is it the Stormers.
Injuries could be another massive downer for the Western Cape franchise.
Having already lost a number of senior players – like Juan de Jongh (moved to Wasps), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Oliver Kebble (Glasgow) and Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse) – they will also be without the services of key Springboks like Frans Malherbe and Eben Etzebeth for a substantial part of the season.
The departure of Rob du Preez to the Sharks also leaves them a bit thin ay flyhalf.
It prompted them to call up Griquas journeyman George Whitehead to help cover the No.10 jersey. However, young Damian Willemse is the man expect to run the show at flyhalf.
They do have the talent, but do they have the will?
South African Conference Placing: Third
Player of the Year: Steven Kitshoff
Rookie of the Year: Juarno Augustus
Super Rugby Placing: Seventh
In: Sergeal Petersen (Cheetahs), Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs), Johannes Engelbrecht (Shuttles), Joshua Stander (Bulls), Neetling Fouche (Bulls), George Whitehead (Griquas).
Out: Bjorn Basson (Oyonnax), Kurt Coleman (Kings), Juan de Jongh (Wasps), Rob du Preez (Sharks), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Oliver Kebble (Glasgow), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse), Godlen Masimla (Kings), Brandon Thompson (Glasgow), Frans van Wyk (Bulls), Shaun Treeby (released).
Squad (provisional squad): JC Janse van Rensburg, Steven Kitshoff, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Caylib Oosthuizen, Alistair Vermaak, Bongi Mbonambi, Dean Muir, Ramone Samuels, Chad Solomon, Jan de Klerk, Johan du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, John Schickerling, Chris van Zyl, Eduard Zandberg, Juarno Augustus, Nizaam Carr, Jaco Coetzee, Stephan de Wit, Siya Kolisi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Kobus van Dyk, Cobus Wiese, Dewaldt Duvenage, Justin Phillips, Jano Vermaak, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Damian Willemse, Damian de Allende, Daniël du Plessis, Dan Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, Khanyo Ngcukana, Seabelo Senatla, Sarel Marais, EW Viljoen, Sergeal Petersen, Raymond Rhule, Johannes Engelbrecht, Joshua Stander, Neetling Fouche, George Whitehead.
Best finish: Runners-up in 2010
Worst finish: Eleventh in 1996, 2006 and 2014
By Jan de Koning
* Don't miss the rest of the South African conference, as well as the New Zealand and Australian conferences in the coming weeks.