New teams, new venues and new faces – including some of the best young talent on offer in South Africa – promise to bring a new level of excitement to the 2016 edition of Vodacom Super Rugby, which kicks off with matches in Auckland, Canberra and Bloemfontein on Friday.
All local teams will feature debutants, which will expose rugby fans to new faces and heroes as the tournament progresses.
The list of youngsters getting a first run at Vodacom Super Rugby level include Junior Springboks such as Ox Nche, Malcolm Jaer, Jean-Luc du Preez, Hyron Andrews, JD Schickerling, Leolin Zas, Warrick Gelant, Jannes Kirsten, RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins.
The re-entry of the Southern Kings means that South Africa will have six teams in the tournament for the first time ever, with the two other new teams in the competition, the Sunwolves and Jaguares, facing South African opposition.
The Toyota Cheetahs will be the first of the six South African franchises to take to the field when they face the Jaguares from Argentina at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein at 19h00 on Friday.
The Emirates Lions, meanwhile, will make history on Saturday morning (SA time) as the first team to play in Tokyo when they line up against Japanese debutantes, the Sunwolves, at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium at 06h15.
The action continues late on Saturday afternoon with local derbies between the Southern Kings and Cell C Sharks at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth at 15h05, and the DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls at DHL Newlands in Cape Town at 17h15.
In the other matches, the Blues host the defending champion Highlanders in Auckland in the opening match and the Brumbies take on the Hurricanes in Canberra on Friday morning, while the Crusaders go up against the Chiefs in Christchurch, the Waratahs meet the Reds in Sydney and the Force do battle with the Rebels in Perth on Saturday.
These matches will also feature a host of South Africans – Ross Geldenhuys (Highlanders), Reggie Goodes (Hurricanes), Riaan Viljoen (Sunwolves), Marcel Brache, Brynard Stander, Chris Heiberg and Peter Grant (all Western Force).
Vodacom Super Rugby information:
Toyota Cheetahs vs Jaguares
Date: Friday, 26 February
SA Time: 19h00
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Lourens van der Merwe
Television match official: Johan Greeff
· Francois Venter (centre) will lead the Toyota Cheetahs, with Springbok lock Lood de Jager named as the vice-captain.
· Flank Uzair Cassiem and replacements Ox Nche, Reniel Hugo and Paul Schoeman will be on debut in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition.
· Coach Franco Smith has opted for play-makers Fred Zeilinga at flyhalf and Clayton Blommetjies at fullback to spark play.
· After winning their last match of the 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby competition against the Vodacom Bulls, the Toyota Cheetahs will be hunting consecutive victories for the first time since their opening two matches last season.
· The Toyota Cheetahs made an average of 133 tackles per match last season with a tackling efficiency of 86%.
· The team has won two of their last eight matches at home against teams from outside South Africa.
Toyota Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith: “I selected a team with a good mix of youth and experience and a side that I think is the best combination at this stage of the competition.
“I think the idea is to use the youth in our favour. People always see it as a negative and I feel there is a positive in it. By now everyone knows who the Jaguares are and what players play for them. They don’t necessarily know who we are and what we can do. That is one advantage for us.
“The other advantage is that we don’t know the opposition so well and that helps that we don’t give them too much respect. We need to concentrate on what we can do and that may be exactly the right ingredient for this time of the year.”
The teams are:
Toyota Cheetahs: Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen, Francois Venter (captain), William Small-Smith, Raymond Rhule, Fred Zeilinga, Shaun Venter, Niell Jordaan, Uzair Cassiem, Boom Prinsloo, Lodewyk de Jager, Carl Wegner, Maks van Dyk, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marais. Replacements:Jacques du Toit, Ox Nche, Luan de Bruin, Reniel Hugo, Henco Venter, Paul Schoeman, Tian Meyer, Niel Marais.
Jaguares: Joaquín Tuculet, Santiago Cordero, Matías Moroni, Jerónimo de la Fuente, Emiliano Boffelli, Nicolās Sānchez, Martín Landajo, Leonardo Senatore, Rodrigo Bāez, Pablo Matera, Tomās Lavanini, Guido Petti, Ramiro Herrera, Agustín Creevy (captain), Lucas Noguera. Replacements: Julíān Montoya, Santiago García Botta, Nahuel Tetaz Chapparo, Matías Alemmano, Facundo Isa, Gonzalo Bertranou, Santiago Gonzālez Iglesias, Matías Orlando.
Sunwolves v Emirates Lions
Date: Saturday, 27 February
SA Time: 06h15
Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo, Aki Aso
Television match official: Takashi Hareda
· Springbok No 8 Warren Whiteley will lead the Emirates Lions as they take to the field for the first time in Tokyo against the Sunwolves.
· All the players in the starting line-up have featured in Vodacom Super Rugby before, but replacements Dylan Smith, Ruan Ackermann and Rohan Janse van Rensburg will make their debuts should they take to the field.
· Elton Jantjies (54), Warren Whiteley (52), Lionel Mapoe (46) and Jaco Kriel (38) are the most experienced players in the team. However, eight players in the squad have played 30 or more Super Rugby matches.
· The Emirates Lions have won eight of their last 11 Vodacom Super Rugby matches, which included back-to-back victories in their last three matches.
· The team from Johannesburg will be looking to secure their third successive overseas victory for the first time in Vodacom Super Rugby history following their victories against the Reds and Rebels in their last two tour matches in 2015.
· The Emirates Lions retained more possession than any other team in the competition last season, with their opponents enjoying on average only 14 minutes and 20 seconds of control in their matches.
Emirates Lions head coach Johan Ackermann: “There are a few debutants in the side like Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Ruan Ackermann and Dylan Smith and once we hit the stadium, the excitement of the game will hit them.
“Every team has high expectations of doing well and everybody will have goals to achieve, with the ultimate goal being to play in the play-offs. But as a team we just want to play as well as we can. As long as we play to our abilities and standards, we will accept the results. We know it will be a massive challenge.”
The teams are:
Sunwolves: Riaan Viljoen, Akihito Yamada, Harumichi Tatekawa, Yu Tamura, Yasutaka Sasakura, Tusi Pisi, Atsushi Hiwasa, Edward Quirk, Andrew Durutalo, Liaki Moli, Hitoshi Ono, Timothy Vond, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Shota Horie (captain), Keith Inagaki. Replacements: Masataka Mikami, Takeshi Kizu, Koki Yamamoto, Shinya Makabe, Yoshiya Hosoda, Kaito Shigeno, Derek Carpenter, Hajime Yamashata.
Emirates Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Howard Mnisi, Courtnal Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (captain), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Ruan Dreyer. Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith, Jacques van Rooyen, Robert Kruger, Ruan Ackermann, Jaco van der Walt, Harold Vorster, Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Southern Kings vs Cell C Sharks
Date: Saturday, 27 February
SA Time: 15h05
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant referees: Rodney Bonaparte, AJ Jacobs
Television match official: Marius Jonker
· Experienced lock Steven Sykes will lead the Southern Kings when they make their return to Vodacom Super Rugby.
· Tom Botha will start at prop in his first match for the Southern Kings, while Louis Albertse, who is back in South Africa after a stint in France, has been named to the bench. Should he take to the field Albertse will make his Vodacom Super Rugby debut. CJ Velleman and Leighton Eksteen are also new to the tournament.
· Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen and fullback Willie le Roux will make their debuts for the Cell C Sharks after several years at the Toyota Cheetahs.
· The inclusion of twin brothers Daniel and Jean-Luc du Preez in the starting team marks the first time in history twins feature in a Cell C Sharks run-on team, although the Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck, have played for them for many years.
· Cell C Sharks lock Hyron Andrews, flank Jean-Luc du Preez and replacements Juan Schoeman and Garth April will make their Vodacom Super Rugby debuts should they take to the field.
· The Southern Kings and Cell C Sharks have only faced each other twice in Vodacom Super Rugby so far, with the Durbanites winning both encounters with an average score of 40-12.
· Should the Southern Kings win, it will mark their first victory against a South African team in the competition.
· The Cell C Sharks will be hunting their fourth consecutive Vodacom Super Rugby victory against the Southern Kings as they finished last season with back-to-back victories against the DHL Stormers, Rebels and Reds. Should they secure a victory it would be their longest winning streak since their five consecutive victories in the 2014 competition.
Southern Kings head coach Deon Davids: “We are very excited about the opportunity to be back in Vodacom Super Rugby, even though we had a late start in terms of our preparations, and I can assure you that the players wearing the jersey will do their utmost best.
“This will be the first game of the season for both us and the Sharks so it may be tight at first, with the game opening up later once the sides have sussed each other out.”
Cell C Sharks head coach Gary Gold: “We excited to get the competition underway. Our focus over the last week was to concentrate our energies on working on areas we believed needed work after our pre-season tour to France.
“Playing the Kings this weekend will be a challenging first task. We believe they have gelled well in the last couple of weeks, through adversity. We will give them a lot of respect because they are a very dangerous outfit and we know that throughout this season they’ll want to make their mark.”
The teams are:
Southern Kings: Jurgen Visser, Luzuko Vulindlu, JP du Plessis, Shane Gates, Malcolm Jaer, Elgar Watts, Ntando Kebe, Jacques Engelbrecht, Thembelani Bholi, Chris Cloete, JC Astle, Steven Sykes, Tom Botha, Martin Ferreira, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Edgar Marutlulle, Sti Sithole, Louis Albertse, Schalk Oelofse, CJ Velleman, Leighton Eksteen, Louis Fouché, Charles Radebe.
Cell C Sharks: Willie le Roux, Odwa Ndungane, Paul Jordaan, Andre Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, Joe Pietersen, Cobus Reinach, Daniel du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Marcell Coetzee, Hyron Andrews, Etienne Oosthuizen, Coenie Oosthuizen, Franco Marais, Tendai Mtawarira (captain). Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Juan Schoeman, Lourens Adriaanse, Dave McDuling, Philip van der Walt, Michael Claassens, Garth April, S’bura Sithole.
DHL Stormers vs Vodacom Bulls
Date: Saturday, 27 February
SA Time: 17h15
Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Cwengile Jadezweni
Television match official: Christie du Preez
· Springboks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Jano Vermaak will debut for the DHL Stormers this weekend. Du Toit has played for the Cell C Sharks before, and Vermaak for the Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls. JC Janse van Rensburg, a former Emirates Lions prop, has been included on the bench.
· Also on the bench, former Junior Springboks JD Schickerling and Leolin Zas are in line to make their Vodacom Super Rugby debuts on Saturday.
· The DHL Stormers have named Springboks Juan de Jongh and Frans Malherbe as co-captains for the season.
· Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss will lead a Vodacom Bulls team which features a total of nine Springboks.
· The Vodacom Bulls team contains a handful of debutantes namely fullback Warrick Gelant, flanks Nic de Jager and Jannes Kirsten and lock RG Snyman. The rookies among the replacements are prop Lizo Gqoboka and lock Jason Jenkins.
· Francois Brummer will dictate play in the absence of injured Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard, who has been ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
· The DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls have met 24 times in Vodacom Super Rugby with the Cape side winning 14 of those matches. The average score is 22-22.
· The DHL Stormers have won six of their last eight Vodacom Super Rugby matches against the Vodacom Blue Bulls, which includes their last three encounters.
· The last time the Vodacom Bulls defeated the DHL Stormers in Cape Town was in 2011. In their four defeats since then the Pretoria side were unable to score more than 17 points per match.
· The DHL Stormers were the most effective goal-kicking side last season with an 81% success rate, while the Vodacom Bulls were in third place with a 79% accuracy rate.
DHL Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck: “Our analysis shows that they (the Bulls) are a willing side, and there is intent there. But knowing the Bulls they are not going to veer to far from their traditional strengths of a strong line-out and maul, a strong midfield and big ball-carriers.
“I would like to think that they are similar to us in the sense that they are building a game plan on their traditional strengths but they are looking to probably play a little bit more and do some things a little differently, which makes them a more dangerous side.”
Vodacom Bulls head coach Nollis Marais: “I have faith in this group. Yes, we have some injuries, but that is part of the rugby landscape. I back this team to go down to Cape Town and do us proud.
“We certainly will be up against it and could not have asked for a tougher assignment than this. This group of players have the talent to become a special team, so if they can find some continuity and momentum in the game, we will be competitive.”
The teams are:
DHL Stormers: Cheslin Kolbe, Kobus van Wyk, Johnny Kotze, Juan de Jongh (co-captain), Dillyn Leyds, Robert du Preez, Jano Vermaak, Nizaam Carr, Schalk Burger, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Oli Kebble. Replacements: Scarra Ntubeni, JC Janse van Rensburg, Frans Malherbe (co-captain), JD Schickerling, Siya Kolisi, Nic Groom, Kurt Coleman, Leolin Zas.
Vodacom Bulls: Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Francois Brummer, Rudy Paige, Arno Botha, Jannes Kirsten, Nic de Jager, Grant Hattingh, RG Snyman, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka, Hencus van Wyk, Jason Jenkins, Roelof Smit, Piet van Zyl, Tian Schoeman, Burger Odendaal.
Other fixtures (SA kick-off times):
Friday, 26 February
08h35: Blues vs Highlanders – Eden Park, Auckland
10h45: Brumbies vs Hurricanes – GIO Stadium, Canberra
Saturday, 27 February
08h35: Crusaders vs Chiefs – AMI Stadium, Christchurch
10h45: Waratahs vs Reds – Allianz Stadium, Sydney
12h55: Force vs Rebels – NIB Stadium, Perth