Rainbow Cup – Team by Team Guide
By Carl Lewis
Catch Quintin van Jaarsveld’s team by team guide ahead of the start of the PRO14 Rainbow Cup on Friday.
A big fish in a small pond (boasting over a dozen Italian national championships) and a sardine in the shark-infested waters of the PRO14. As Italy are to the Six Nations, Benetton are the whipping boys of the PRO14. They failed to win a single game last season and leaked 53 tries, much to defence coach, former Bulls and Stormers utility back Marius Goosen’s dismay.
Nevertheless, they leave it all out of the park and the heart they show week-in and week-out ensure they remain the pride of Treviso. Irné Herbst, Braam Steyn, Corniel Els and veteran scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage add a distinct South African flavour to the squad, while Zimbabwe-born lock Eli Snyman – brother of Springbok second-rower RG – adds extra beef to the pack.
Coach: Kieran Crowley.
Key player: Tommaso Allan.
The Bulls are the best-suited of the South African sides to adapt to the more tactically driven and physically demanding style of play on the heavier Northern Hemisphere fields whenever local teams eventually travel to Europe. Jake White has made astute signings, which have already paid rich dividends in the form of a domestic double, and the men from Pretoria look poised to lead the South African surge.
Veteran Springbok flyhalf Morné Steyn is the perfect pivot for PRO14 rugby. He has another evergreen stalwart next to him in the reinvented Cornal Hendricks and exciting young backs like Blitzbok captain Stedman Gans, Kurt-Lee Davids and David Kriel on the outside. Captain Duane Vermeulen epitomises the power and passion of the Bulls and headlines an embarrassment of back-row riches, while the tight five beams with potential and will only grow in stature.
Country: South Africa.
Coach: Jake White.
Key player: Duane Vermeulen.
Cardiff have generally been competitive in the PRO14 and finished second in consecutive seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08. The Blues also regularly make their presence felt in the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup. They’ve reached the Champions Cup playoffs on a number of occasions and the club’s crowning moment came in 2018 when they beat Gloucester in an epic final to clinch the European Challenge Cup.
The Blues blew hot and cold in the PRO14 last season, finishing fourth in Conference B with an 8-8 record. Josh Turnbull was talismanic and will lead the charge again. He’ll be supported by fellow Welsh internationals Josh Navidi, Cory Hill, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Adams and Matthew Morgan.
Coach: Dai Young.
Key player: Josh Turnbull.
The baby brother of the Irish contingent with the province containing only 8% of the total population of Ireland. Designated by the IRFU as a development team at the dawn of the professional era, Connacht received only half the budget of the other Irish provinces.
Since those humble beginnings, they’ve gone from strength to strength. They’ve won the PRO14 once and the Inter-Provincial Championship three times. They’ve also reached the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup on three occasions.
With Test players like Sean O’Brien, Dave Heffernan, Ultan Dillane, Finlay Bealham, Jack Carty, Bundee Aki and South African-born Quinn Roux in their ranks, they finished second in Conference B last season and will be a stern and tricky test for the South African sides.
Coach: Andy Friend.
Key player: Jack Carty.
One of two Scottish clubs in the competition, Edinburgh recorded their best-ever finish when they reached the final and narrowly lost to Munster in the 2008-09 season. They also finished as runners-up in the European Challenge Cup in 2015 and have won the Scottish Inter-District Championship/Scottish League on three occasions.
Despite having a solid squad, Edinburgh endured a torrid campaign that yielded just four wins and saw them finish third from bottom, above the Italian clubs alone, last season. Two of their most influential players are South African imports – flyhalf Jaco van der Walt and wing Duhan van der Merwe, while WP Nel and Pierre Schoeman pack down in the front row.
Coach: Richard Cockerill.
Key player: Hamish Watson.
Scotland’s top dogs. The Warriors won the then-PRO12 title in 2014-15 and have finished as runners-up on two occasions. They’ve also reached the quarterfinals of both the Champions Cup and the European Challenge Cup. Glasgow, who have a senior core of Scottish internationals like Fraser Brown, Richie Gray, Chris Fusaro, Tommy Seymour and Huw Jones, finished fourth in Conference A last season.
Former Stormers prop Oli Kebble is a pillar of strength in the scrum and has graduated to the Scotland national team while ex-Griquas utility back Kyle Steyn is another South African plying his trade at Glasgow. Adding to the club’s foreign flair are the likes of Fijian hooker Mesu Dolokoto and Samoa loose forward TJ Ioane.
Coach: Danny Wilson.
Key player: Richie Gray.
The weakest of the Welsh team. Representing the southeast of Wales, the club finished third in their maiden season and fourth the following year but haven’t been able to replicate those early highs. The Dragons are at the back of the line in terms of the country’s elite talent and as a result, they’ve been also-rans for the most part. They finished second from bottom in Conference A and a lowly ninth place last season with just five wins.
Central to their cause are captain and flyhalf Sam Davies and veteran Wales and British & Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts. Welsh back-rower Dan Baker has bolstered the squad on a short-term deal while young lock Ben Carter, who shone for the Welsh Under-20 side last year, has the makings of a future star.
South African fans will spot a familiar face up front, where Brok Harris is flourishing at the age of 36. The former Stormers prop last season won the Tackle Machine award, given to the player who has made 150 tackles or more and set the highest completion percentage, with a remarkable 97.6% success rate.
Coach: Dean Ryan.
Key player: Sam Davies.
The all-conquering Irish giants enter as the odds-on favourites to seal the silverware. They’re the Crusaders of the PRO14, clinching their fourth title on the trot and eighth overall with a 16-6 win over rivals Ulster in the final last month. Leo Cullen’s charges are also chasing a record fifth European crown and have a Champions Cup semi-final meeting with La Rochelle next weekend.
They’re a star-studded, well-oiled machine whose dominance is built on cyborg-esque efficiency. They’re ultra-clinical, operate on unmatched controlled aggression and physicality and have their game plan dialled in. Like an anaconda, Leinster systematically suffocate and consume their prey.
Coach: Leo Cullen.
Key player: Johnny Sexton.
The Lions will present Northern Hemisphere teams with new defensive dangers. The men from Johannesburg are unpredictable, full of flair and fearless. Their up-tempo, offence-orientated style is closer to that of a New Zealand team than a traditional South African side, which will make them a unique threat.
Springbok in waiting Wandisile Simelane will take centre stage with his mercurial skills in midfield, while Tiaan Swanepoel is expected to play a pivotal role with star flyhalf and long-time captain Elton Jantjies on loan to French club Pau. Fitness will be of the utmost importance to the Lions, more so than for any other team given their attacking style, and will be thoroughly tested if the away leg of the tournament isn’t curtailed by Covid.
Country: South Africa.
Coach: Ivan van Rooyen.
Key player: Jaco Kriel.
The Red Army run on South African brains and brawn in the form of coach Johann van Graan and the likes of Springboks Damian de Allende and RG Snyman and an Irish heartbeat. They also have the genius of Wallabies great Stephen Larkham, who serves as assistant coach. It’s thus not surprising that their offense operates on fluid and relentless phase play reminiscent of the golden era of Brumbies rugby when Larkham pulled the strings at flyhalf.
Munster, who boast two Champions Cup titles, comfortably won their conference but rivals Leinster proved to be their kryptonite once again in the final, denying them a fourth PRO14 title last month. They’ll be one of the top contenders. Ex-Kings flank Chris Cloete has taken his career to new heights at the club and was crowned Turnover King last season, so watch out for him.
Coach: Johann van Graan.
Key player: Conor Murray.
Representing Swansea, Neath and Bridgend, Ospreys are the most successful Welsh side in the PRO14. They’ve won the tournament on four occasions (including instances when it was known as the PRO12 and the Celtic League) and are also the only Welsh club to beat a touring side, having scored a famous 24-16 win over the Wallabies in 2006.
They haven’t been able to return to those heights in recent years and finished a distant third in Conference A last season with a 50% winning record. They boast some of the biggest and best names in Welsh rugby history such as captain Alun Wyn Jones and fellow Test centurion George North and can beat any team on any given day. South African pair Tom Botha and Shaun Venter are also on their books.
Coach: Toby Booth.
Key player: Justin Tipuric.
The next-best Welsh club when it comes to the PRO14. They’ve won the title twice, the last coming in 2016-17, and hold the distinction of being the first Welsh side to win the tournament when it was still known as the Celtic League in 2003-04. Representing West and North Wales, Scarlets would’ve been disappointed that they finished fifth last season as they look like a top-four team on paper.
They boast a slew of Welsh Test stars including Ken Owens, Aaron Shingler, Rhys Patchell, Leigh Halfpenny and Gareth and Jonathan Davis. They also have two Springboks in Werner Kruger and Uzair Cassiem and a third South African brute in former Kings tighthead Pieter Scholtz on their roster.
Coach: Glenn Delaney.
Key player: Jonathan Davies.
Like the Bulls, the Sharks are well-positioned. The Durbanites are the most well-rounded of the South African teams, both tactically and in terms of transformation. They have a solid pack, an excellent backline and Springbok flyhalf Curwin Bosch’s monster boot, which is bound to become an even greater trump card than it already is.
There’s great excitement in the Durban air since MVM Holdings acquired a 51% controlling stake in the franchise in a ground-breaking deal in January, which has energised an already highly motivated side to soar to new heights. To that end, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi has come onboard to add extra star and firepower to the team, who based on their Springbok-laden backline, could become the most popular South African side among Northern Hemisphere fans.
Country: South Africa.
Coach: Sean Everitt.
Key player: Curwin Bosch.
Things are far from rosy in the picturesque paradise known as Cape Town, where the Stormers are based. The team have a new home ground in Cape Town Stadium but are an unsettled bunch stemming from a seemingly never-ending boardroom power struggle.
Kolisi’s departure wasn’t the only one during the recent transfer window but much to their supporters’ delight, the Stormers were able to hold onto Springbok props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe, with the former taking over the captaincy on a full-time basis.
They also tied down sought-after utility back Damian Willemse, who’ll be the key man in the backline. Fans will follow young guns Kade Wolhuter and Abner van Rooyen’s development with hopeful anticipation that one of them will emerge as the answer to the franchise’s flyhalf problem.
Country: South Africa.
Coach: John Dobson.
Key player: Damian Willemse.
Ulster are a tough out for any team despite most of Ireland’s elite either playing for Leinster or Munster. They make the most of what they got, elevating players and building a tight-knit group.
They were crowned PRO14 champions in 2005/06 and were the runners-up on three occasions (2003/04, 2012/13 and 2019/20). They have internationals like Iain Henderson, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy and Sam Carter to call on, but a lack of depth compared to powerhouse teams has proved to be their undoing on the biggest stages.
The loss of Marcell Coetzee to the Bulls is a big blow but they’re on the up. They’re in the final four of the European Challenge Cup, where they’ll take on the Leicester Tigers next weekend, so they’ll be there or thereabout. Keep an eye out for former Lions fullback Louis Ludik.
Coach: Dan McFarland.
Key player: Ian Madigan.
Based in Parma, Zebre perennially prop up the table but enter 2021 with great optimism having faired considerably better than fellow Italian club Benetton last season. The XV of the North-West, who represent the four committees of Emilia-Romagna, Liguria, Lombardy and Piedmont, along with clubs from other committees in the surrounding area, notched up four wins, their most since the 2017-18 campaign, which earned Michael Bradley the Coach of the Year award.
They’ve featured in the Champions Cup three times but are yet to qualify for the playoffs. They’ve also played in the European Challenge Cup five times without advancing past the pool stages. There are few names South African fans will recognise in the Zebre ranks. One that sticks out, though, is Gqeberha-born Johan Meyer. The back-rower played for Border and the Sharks before joining Zebre in 2015 and has made 14 Test appearances for the Azzurri.
Coach: Michael Bradley.
Key player: Tommaso Castello.