Nine down, nine to go. In Part II we check out some banana boys, banana peels, kings, jesters and my colourblindness is put to the test.
Click for Super Bang Bang: Part I.
Facundo Isa has left the building – according to the Twittersphere, the star eighthman will take no part in Super Rugby as he will join French club Lyon until the end of the season before making his high profile move to Toulon next season. The barnstorming loosie was a standout in the latter half of the competition last year and he will be sorely missed by the Argentine’s. They have also lost Martin Landajo at scrumhalf – a huge blow considering his form last year. Nonetheless, after the last year’s learning curve, I feel they will be a far more competitive unit this year. They will not face Kiwi sides in the league phase, which is a huge plus and if they can improve on their discipline from last year then they might well be a playoff contender.
Superstar: Santiago Cordero
Watch him: Pablo Matero
Strengths: Test match experience
Weakness: Surprisingly poor set piece last year and discipline
The men from the Land of Milk and Honey get more hate than Donald Trump from the Democrats. However, this is totally unfair in my unbiased opinion. They were thrown to the wolves last year – a squad thrust together at the 11th hour from all over the show. They had no hope, but still bagged two wins. Now, they have had some disruptions with many outgoing players, however a thorough preseason will put them in good stead. They are not world beaters, but expect them to be more competitive. Ross Geldenhuys has been signed from the Highlanders and he is probably the only South African player left in the competition to have ever won this tournament – though that won’t happen again this year.
Superstar: CJ Velleman
Watch him: Chris Cloete
Strengths: They are a team who hail from the most sacred land on earth
Weakness: They are probably not the best rugby team on earth
Like Cinderella, they lost their slipper before the dance and sadly it was picked up by the Hurricanes who ended up taking the prom queen home. That said, what a season it was for the Leeus, surprising all and sundry with their flowing brand of rugby that restored the faith of the South African public. The shining light in a dark year for South African rugby, the Lions will once again be expected to flame on in 2017 as the best hopes at winning a title. They have the Aussie side of the draw this year and home advantage is imperative for them in playoffs if they are to have title aspirations. Julian Redelinghuys is injured, Warwick Tecklenburg retired and Ruan Combrinck is out for the first six weeks as least – other than that, not much major to report from Ellis Park other than a sighting of a Zebra named Smith with an oddly shaped beak.
Superstar: Jaco Kriel
Watch him: Kwagga Smith
Strengths: Flamboyance and flair from the front row to the backline
Weakness: They now have a large contingent of loyal, diehard, bandwagon supporters to impress
Marika Koroibete is a rugby league convert who the Rebels are pretty pumped about signing, but he has only played one game of rugby union and is coming off an injury so like Marcus Mumford we will just have to wait. Luke Jones, Adam Thomson, Mike Harris and Tamati Ellison played a crucial role in getting the Rebels to 7 out of 15 wins last season and will be missed. This is not a great side, but not a bad one nonetheless and they have been making steady progress in Super Rugby. Don’t expect flames, but the Rebels can still burn you and will prove to be a banana peel for some.
Superstar: Sean McMahon (when he returns from injury)
Watch him: Reece Hodge
Strengths: They are not the worst Australian team
Weakness: They are not the best Australian team
Call me colourblind, but alongside the Blues, the Reds are the team I am most excited to see this season. Something is bubbling in Brisbane (aka BrisVegas) and the winds of change are blowing. After a tumultuous start to 2016 which saw a change in coaching staff, an unknown group of Reds players showed glimpses of something special. Now they have Wallabies’ Stephen Moore, Quade Cooper, Scott Higginbotham, Leroy Houston and George Smith in their ranks to add some seniority and guidance. They shouldn’t make the playoffs, but they ought to play some good rugby as Queensland build themselves back up to the glory days of 2011.
Superstar: Samu Kerevi
Watch him: Taniela Tupou (in main picture. Click here for highlights)
Strengths: They no longer have any Fainga’a’s in their squad
Weakness: Back-up flyhalf and goalkicking
The Banana Boys always have a good squad on paper, but never seem to get it together. They have never won the competition, despite making four finals. They are perennial let downs, however 2017 prospects seem brighter. An easier draw with Aussie teams, plus an exciting young backline, a fit again Bok halfback duo and a plethora of loosies should put the Durbanites in contention to be a definite in the playoffs. JP Pietersen, Willie le Roux and Paul Jordaan are notable losses, but there is much hype of the rise of Curwin Bosch to keep the Sharks fans smiling.
Superstar: Pat Lambie
Watch him: Lukhanyo Am
Strengths: Quality starting halfbacks and decent back-ups
Weakness: They are a team who tend to go into their shell and play dull ‘safe’ rugby
For years and years under Allister Coetzee, the Stormers had the best players in the country, however their trophy cabinet looked more like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard than anything else. Currently in a sort of rebuilding phase, with a union in financial troubles, it appears as if Table Mountain’s table cloth has cast a dark uncertain shadow over the Mother City’s team. Several players have moved abroad and continue to do so with Oli Kebble and Brandon Thomson penning deals in the last two weeks with Glasgow. To add insult to injury so to speak, they have lost Leolin Zas, Juan de Jongh and Scarra Ntubeni to long term injuries. Although, they do now have the services of the best Sevens rugby player in the world – the flying Seabelo Senatla. They have the NZ teams to face this season, but I would expect the Stormers to get to the playoffs.
Superstar: Pieter-Steph du Toit
Watch him: Sikhumbuzo Notshe
Strengths: Lineout and Defence (least tries conceded in 2016)
Weakness: Inability to transform league form to knockouts
Ah the Moondogs! Love the gees coming from the fellas from the land of the rising sun. One win and a draw in 2016, saw them finish last on the overall log, so you can all stop tuning the Kings now. Thanks. Heaps of new faces in the Sunwolves this season and a new coach in Flio Tiatia. Fumiaki Tenaka’s smile will be missed on the Highlanders bench, but welcomed to the Sunwolves lineup. Tusi Pisi won’t be there in 2017 to pull the strings – a huge blow for a team expected to dwell at the bottom of the table again. Let’s hope they can crack at least one or two wins in front of their partisan fans in Tokyo. To be honest, I must own up and say I haven’t done my homework on these boys yet, so I am holding thumbs that they will pleasantly surprise me.
Superstar: Riaan Viljoen (Yes, this guy. Seriously. Experience and a massive boot, he was good last year)
Watch him: Ataata Moeakiola (Click here for highlights)
Strengths: Loud, passionate home fans and a team of unknowns
Weakness: Rugby, presumably, can’t say much having never seen or heard of many of these blokes.
Australia’s strongest team in 2017, they narrowly missed the playoffs last year. Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Dave Dennis, Wycliff Palu and especially Kurtley Beale are big losses from 2016, but Sekope Kepu’s return will be a boost. Nick Phipps and Bernie Foley are an awesome halfback pairing and Israel Folau is perhaps more elusive than a Kudu Bull in the thick bush. They should do much better than last year and will top the Aussie conference, although they will get knocked out in the playoffs by a Kiwi or Saffa side #Nostradamus.
Superstar: Israel Folau
Watch him: Jed Holloway
Strengths: They tend to play boring winning rugby, they remind me of the Stormers in that way
Weakness: Squad depth