16 January 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

The Top SA Super Rugby Recruits for 2020

With plenty of player movement after the 2019 Super Rugby season, Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies South African teams’ top signings for this year’s tournament.

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BULLS

The Bulls must be credited for their sound recruitment drive. Aside from the surprise signing of Tongan centre Nafi Tuitavake, which came out of left field, the Pretoria side made excellent, strategic acquisitions to bolster key areas most affected by the mass exodus of top talent. They’ve opted for quality over quantity and landed three Test stars who’ll play prominent roles this season.

Juandré Kruger

The first is world-class lock Kruger, who returns to the Bulls after a successful six-year spell in France, with Racing and Toulon, which included a Top 14 title win with the former in 2016. Kruger played 17 Tests for the Springboks, his debut coming against England in 2012 and the last against the All Blacks in 2013. His return to Pretoria is powered by passion, with the 33-year-old turning down a big overseas contract to lend his invaluable class and experience to the Bulls’ depleted second-row stocks following the departures of World Cup-winning locks Lood de Jager and RG Snyman, as well as Jason Jenkins and Eli Snyman.

Morne Steyn

The Prodigal Son returns. In a time where the term legend is thrown around loosely, Steyn is a bona fide great. Like Kruger, the former Springbok flyhalf enjoyed a stellar spell in France, where he represented Stade Français in over 100 matches since joining the Paris outfit in 2013. Timing is everything in sport, and Steyn’s much-awaited return to Loftus comes at the perfect time to offset the loss of Handré Pollard to Montpellier. The 35-year-old, who helped steer the Bulls to their three Super Rugby titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010, is a record-setter, a match-winner, a 66-Test cap Bok and a tactical genius tailor-made for the Bulls brand of rugby.

Josh Strauss

With the Bulls pack losing much of their muscle and mongrel, Strauss has been roped in to bring elite-level ruthless aggression to the new-look forward collective. The back-rower showed signs of his international potential during his time at the Lions (from 2010 to 2012), where he captained the Super Rugby and Currie Cup teams, but it was his move to Glasgow Warriors that saw him evolve into a world-class player. After paying his dues, he made his debut for Scotland against Japan at the 2015 World Cup. He has 24 Test caps to his name, and after stints at Sale Sharks and Stade Français, he’s returned to South Africa. Abrasive, powerful and a leader, he’s as good an option as any to fill the void left by World Cup-winning Duane Vermeulen.

LIONS

After 38-year-old Schalk Brits’ sensational impact for the Bulls last year, the Lions have taken a similar route by recruiting two veteran former Springboks in addition to a few young, fresh faces.

Willem Alberts

“The Bone Collector” as he’s known for his fierce physicality and penchant for making massive hits, is training with the Lions but at the time of writing, he still had to pass a medical test to make his move from Stade Français to the Johannesburg franchise official. Alberts, who played the last of his 43 Springbok Tests in 2016, plied his trade in Paris after leaving the Sharks in 2015, and if his fitness is up to scratch, his size, strength and physicality will come in hand for the young Lions squad.

Jannie du Plessis

Like Steyn, Du Plessis is a true legend. In Du Plessis, the Lions have a world-beating tighthead as well as a scrum guru of note. One of the best scrum anchors in Springbok history, and the most-capped Bok tighthead ever with 70 Tests, his unrivalled experience will benefit the Lions on and off the pitch. He spent the last five seasons at Montpellier, where he scrummed down with his brother Bismarck after the duo left Durban. At 37, the qualified doctor still has some gas in the tank and his mentoring of Lion cubs, particularly promising powerhouse Carlu Sadie, is exciting for not just the Johannesburg outfit, but South African rugby in general.

André Warner

With the Bulls having two Springbok scrumhalves on their books in Ivan van Zyl and Ambrose Papier, Warner has crossed the Jukskei to link up with the Lions. It’s an opportunity for the promising No.9 to reignite his career. Still highly rated, he turned down an offer from the Stormers to make Ellis Park his new rugby home, where his attacking instincts should sync up well with veteran flyhalf Elton Jantjies. Coming off a stint at Stade Français, he’ll most likely start the tournament behind another Bok, Ross Cronje, but with Nic Groom gone, the 26-year-old is set to get ample game time.

SHARKS

The Sharks have added a host of new recruits to their roster. From Springboks to a string of Junior Boks, the Durban side did a great deal of damage control after losing a litany of top stars. It’s the reinforcements they’ve made to the pack, in particular, that’s set to be significant.

Ox Nche

The Sharks are regular shoppers at the Bloemfontein prop factory and their latest acquisition is massive, both in stature and in terms of the future of the franchise. Nche has been handpicked as the legendary Tendai Mtawarira’s successor and has the overall game to follow in the Springbok great’s footsteps. With that honour comes expectation, and the former Cheetahs loosehead has already impressed new coach Sean Everitt with his eagerness, set-piece prowess and professionalism. Hungry for success at the Sharks, and to add to the one Test cap he earned in 2018, expect big things from the barn-storming big man.

Sikhumbuzo Notshe

Notshe has gone coast-to-coast in an attempt to return to the heights that saw him run out for the Springboks on six occasions in 2018. He got lost in the shuffle at the Stormers last season, with the Cape side boasting superstars like Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Step du Toit along with the likes of Jaco Coetzee, Kobus van Dyk and Juarno Augustus, and his move to the Sharks makes him a linchpin in a back-row left barren by the Du Preez twins, Philip van der Walt and Jacques Vermeulen. Fast, strong and explosive, the 26-year-old will see his switch as a new lease on life and will be determined to make the most of it.

James Venter

A player of the calibre of Werner Kok is a shoo-in for a list like this, but the Blitzbok star’s only available for the Sharks after the Olympic Games, ruling him out of Super Rugby. Instead, the focus falls on Venter, an all-action loose forward who heads back home after getting his start at the Lions. The Port Shepstone product is a pure athletic and competitor, a livewire who’ll inject energy into the back row. Whether used as an impact player off the bench, a role he played so well for the Lions, or as a starter, the 23-year-old always makes his presence felt and is seen as an investment.

STORMERS

The Stormers have largely stuck to their guns due to their financial crisis, bar for one big, surprising exception.

Jamie Roberts

The Cape franchise, with a big assist from a ‘third party’ sponsor, have reportedly pulled a rabbit out of the hat to offset the massive loss of Springbok midfielder Damian de Allende. As the best centre at the 2019 World Cup and the Stormers’ go-to backline ball-carrier in recent years, De Allende seemed damn-near irreplaceable, but if the unique deal revealed by Rapport comes to fruition, the Stormers have found as close to a DDA clone in world rugby in Roberts, a veteran of 97 Tests for Wales and three British & Irish Lions tours. Past his prime, sure, but the 1.93m, 110kg tank still has tread on the tyres and would provide a major boost if he’s granted an early release from his contract with Bath.

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