Super Fan Saturday Predictions
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
After six long months, local rugby resumes with a blockbuster double-header featuring the four Super Rugby franchises at Loftus Versfeld this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Fans have been clamouring for live action since the Super Rugby tournament proper was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic in mid-March. The wait is finally over with the Bulls and Sharks kicking things off before the Lions battle the Stormers on Super Fan Saturday.
Here’s how we see things playing out:
Bulls v Sharks (Saturday – 16:25 SA time)
While both derbies are eagerly anticipated, this one is especially intriguing as we get our first glimpse of the Bulls under Jake White. The Pretoria side are a team transformed, with White having gone on an extensive recruitment drive since taking over the reins during lockdown, a spending spree headlined by Springboks Duane Vermeulen, Gio Aplon, Travis Ismaiel, Nizaam Carr, Arno Botha, Marcel van der Merwe and Jason Jenkins.
Their disastrous Super Rugby campaign, which yielded just one win from six outings, is thus nothing to go on. Having said that, it’ll take time for the new squad to gel and get to grips with White’s gameplan. Training is one thing, but real synergy can only be forged in the heat of battle.
The Sharks have synergy in spades, fast-flowing cohesion that saw them soar to the top of the Super Rugby standings with six wins out of seven. The shutout has robbed the Durban side of that momentum, and they’ll be without two of their most dangerous weapons in Sbu Nkosi and Aphelele Fassi.
However, they still have a distinct advantage as a unit, which should see them see off the hosts in a compelling clash of styles.
Prediction: Sharks by 7.
Lions v Stormers (Saturday – 18:55 SA time)
Unlike their neighbours, the Lions remain in the ruins of their 1-5 Super Rugby season, with the return of Springbok flank Jaco Kriel the only notable boost during lockdown.
The Stormers, meanwhile, have been bolstered by the return of World Cup winners Siya Kolisi, Bongi Mbonambi and Herschel Jantjies from injury, the star trio adding extra firepower to the Springbok-laden Cape side, along with new signing Warrick Gelant.
The Lions could and probably should have upset the Stormers in their last meeting at Ellis Park in February, but lacked composure and leaked a last-minute try to succumb 33-30. Their defence has their biggest weakness, whereas it’s one of the Stormers’ greatest strengths.
For the men from Johannesburg to have a shot, they have to force the Stormers into a fast-paced contest. They don’t have the pack, however, to gain the ascendency upfront and will likely struggle to build momentum on the back foot. As a result, the Stormers should strong-arm their way to a comfortable victory to make it a coastal clean sweep.
Prediction: Stormers by 14.