It’s been a good start to the Super Rugby competition for South African franchises; all of us South Africans are riding high after the excellent display from the Lions in Hamilton against the Chiefs.
The Johannesburg based franchise are certainly the toast of the Town around here but with that a few other things have gone unnoticed; like the Bulls starting to develop their new attacking game and the Cheetahs defence looking a bit more solid than it did last season. Even the Sharks and the Stormers who are both riding high with two wins from two seem to have been swept aside by this wave of positivity towards the Lions and their gutsy and abrasive style of play.
All five franchises (sorry Kings, I just don’t have the strength to write a single word about anything going on in Port Elizabeth) have looked quite dangerous at times over the past Two Rounds. Nevertheless it’s time to look ahead to Round Three and who might be the difference makers for their teams. Keep in mind the Bulls have a bye so none of their players came into consideration.
Lions: Elton Jantjies
The Lions rap up their tour of New Zealand with a trip to Dunedin to face the defending Champions the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium following a historic victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton.
In round 1 they travelled to Tokyo to take on the Sunwolves and they looked a bit out of sync even though they managed to come away with a bonus point victory. This could be attributed to Elton Jantjies, who on the day could only be described as erratic at best. Fast forward to the game in Hamilton and Jantjies looked like the World beater fans of the Johannesburg based franchise have become accustomed to in the past few years.
Jantjies is somewhat of a rare commodity in South African Rugby, he plays close to the gain line and his greatest ability is to put his team-mates into gaps with audacious offloads. The Lions go as well as he does because he is the link between the possession they gain and them then unleashing the attacking weapons they possess. He is quite inconsistent, a hit or miss kind of player, but be assured if he is firing on all cylinders the Lions might well be going home with two wins from two in New Zealand.
Cheetahs: Francois Venter
The Cheetahs have had a tough two weeks of Super Rugby. Firstly, they narrowly lost to the Jaguares after leading by 21 points in Bloemfontein and then in Round 2 they looked well up for and upset victory versus the Stormers until Lood de Jager received a yellow card for a high tackle on Pieter- Steph du Toit. They proceeded to then lose the arm wrestle and go down 20-10.
The Cheetahs are a team with all the talent in the World, despite being pillaged of players from other Unions they constantly produce new stars. Irony comes in the fact that their captain and best player at the moment is Francois Venter was lured to Pretoria by the Bulls but after being frustrated by a lack of playing time made his way back to the city he was born in, sunny Bloemfontein.
Venter might not have had the immediate impact on SA Rugby that everyone had expected but he sure is making up for lost time. He seems to relish the more open style of play the Cheetahs incorporate as well as the extra responsibility of leading the team week in and week out.
Two tries in two rounds and he doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon, Venter has looked a class player playing outside a distributing inside centre like William Small- Smith. Look for him to make a few clean breaks if given front foot ball from the Cheetahs pack against Super Rugby newcomers the Sunwolves. He is equally adept on attack as he is on defence and is certainly knocking on the Springbok selectors (whomever they might be come June) door.
Sharks: Marcell Coetzee
Sorry Sharks fans but you’ll be without the precocious Mr. Coetzee after this Super Rugby season. At the tender age of 24, the young Springbok is packing his bags for Ulster. What a great signing for the Irish Club and a great move for the forgotten flanker of SA Rugby.
Nobody plays with more heart and guts than Marcell Coetzee. An absolute tyrant at the breakdown and in the loose the Sharks have lost a World beater before he has even reached his prime, which is quite scary when you look at his recent form.
The blame for this can only fall flat at the feet of SARU as Marcell Coetzee was the best flanker in South Africa last season but was constantly overshadowed by players with a bigger reputation like Willem Alberts.
He’s the heart and soul of the Durban based franchise and he’ll look to do some damage to the Stormers, a team he was heavily linked with in the off season. Watch out for him at the back of their driving maul, chances are he’ll be scoring a bustling try from there again this weekend.
Stormers: Eben Etzebeth
Let’s not kid ourselves; Eben Etzebeth is a scary individual. He is somewhat of a cult hero here in South Africa. If you had to pick a guy to back you up in a bar fight, it’d be Etzebeth. Just ask the population of his hometown Tygerberg in the Cape. The game between the Sharks and the Stormers in round 3 will definitely come down to the two forward packs and who can establish their dominance on the opposition and that’s kind of Eben’s shtick.
He is an absolute freak of an athlete that strikes fear into the hearts of many opponents. His line- out skills have developed fantastically, he even managed to swipe 4 line-out steels against the Cheetahs. He is building a ferocious partnership with fellow lock Pieter- Steph du Toit and they will look to assert themselves on the set piece and breakdown with gusto and intensity.