It is a truncated round one of Super Rugby again this season with only two fixtures in South Africa to kick the competition off. As I noted in my preview of the season, the South African teams have been decimated by players chasing the big bucks in France and Japan so this round will give a good indicia of how the season will pan out for the four combatants.
Cheetahs v Lions, Bloemfontein
The Lions return to Super Rugby competition this season after besting the Southern Kings in the promotion / relegation series at the end of the last season. Conversely, the Cheetahs come into this game off the back of their best every season in the “top flight” of Southern Hemisphere of rugby. The Cheetahs have named a full strength squad, including multiple Springboks, for this fixture whilst the Lions name six debutants at this level.
I can’t really add much further given that the Lions present as also rans in the competition will continue to face the real prospect of the wooden spoon in this competition right for game one. The Cheetahs, on the other hand, are a different side to that which possesses a five from nine victory record against the Lions and I expect them to dominate this game at home.
Craig Joubert is the whilst blower for this fixture.
Prediction: Cheetahs by plenty
Sharks v Bulls, Durban
Jake White returns to Super Rugby action following his defection from the Brumbies Durban in charge of a Sharks team replete with Springboks and fresh off a win in the Currie Cup. This is a game that many predict will the first in a season that will lead to a Super Rugby final for the Sharks and, having selected 11 Springboks, the weight of expectation will be on them right from the very first game of the season.
The Bulls conversely have been shattered by an exodus of players to the riches of Europe and Japan, led by possibly their greatest modern player in their history in Morne Steyn. Frans Ludeke’s side is thusly replete with a number of players on debut at this level coupled with a number of very inexperienced names. Unlike the Sharks they will not be burdened by expectation this year, probably for the first time in a long while but in a rebuilding year (expect to read that phrase a lot) it is hard to see them making much of an impression on their combatants here.
This is a battle between the new favourites and the old favourites and whilst it won’t be a blow out I expect the Sharks to win this one without really being tested.
The referee is Jaco Peyper
Prediction: Sharks by 16