The unpredictable nature of the premier southern hemisphere rugby competition came to the fore once more last year, as the Brumbies, led by Jake White, came from nowhere to reach the final of the Super XV, just losing out to defending champions the Chiefs in Hamilton after being in front for much of the game. The competition gets off to a limited start this weekend, with two South African derbies taking centre stage before a full round of fixtures next week kicks things off for the competition on the side of the Indian Ocean.
Super XV Odds
The tournament, which runs through to August, will start in Bloemfontein, where the Cheetahs host the returning Lions. The Free Staters were another of the major surprises last year, making it to the playoff stages for the first time, narrowly losing to the Brumbies in Canberra. The Lions, on the other hand, will welcome the opportunity to play in the competition again, after missing out last season’s tournament at the expense of the Southern Lions, whom they beat in a playoff after the Eastern Cape side finished last of the South African teams last year.
The Lions’ year out in the wilderness came at a big cost, with a lot their former players opting to leave the union at the beginning of last year in the hopes of playing at the highest level. As a consequence of this, the Lions will come into the game with six players making the Super Rugby debuts, and on paper, a much weaker and inexperienced side than the Cheetahs, who will be able to call on the services of star flyhalf Johan Goosen from the beginning of the season after the Springbok number 10 missed large parts of last year through injury. The 12 points handicap seems to reflect this apparent disparity between these two sides, but this is a derby game, and the opening game of the season as well, so it might be exploitable for punters. More so than the 4/1 for a Lions victory or the unplayable 2/11 of the Cheetahs.
The game of this significantly shortened weekend is the tie between the Sharks and the Bulls at Kings Park later on Saturday evening. The Sharks, who brought in Jake White from the Brumbies to replace John Plumtree, are fresh from their Currie Cup victory late last year and are being touted as the best team in the South African conference. And this is understandable, with the 2007 World Cup winning combination of White and his then-captain now-CEO John Smit beck together, as well as host of new sponsors and general positivity emanating from Durban in the preseason. The Sharks have a good draw and will be one of the teams to look out for throughout the tournament provided they get a good start – Saturday will be their first real test.
That test will come in the form of a Bulls side that includes as many new faces as old, after a raft of players left the union at the end of last year for greener pastures in Europe and Japan, not least flyhalf and talisman Mornè Steyn, whose departure leaves a massive void to fill. One man who they will be able to count on again is legendary Springbok lock Victor Matfield. The big number five stepped away from the game in 2011, taking up a position in the Bulls’ coaching staff, but, with a view to playing in the 2015 World Cup, Matfield has decided to step back into the field, bringing some much needed experience to this green-looking Bulls side.
The first game of the season is always up for grabs for the team who has prepared the best off-season, though a win first up can help teams build the platform required to go far in a competition of this kind. Home advantage, and a more experience side – 11 starters are Springboks – should give the Sharks the edge in their season opener, and the 2/5 is about as good as you were ever going to get. Their six-point handicap can be taken advantage of, however, if things go well for White’s men. The Bulls are at 2/1 at the moment.
We’ll put up a full preview of the tournament next week, ahead of the full set of fixtures.
Check out the official tournament website to keep up with the latest on the tournament.