It’s been forever, hasn’t it? Well, it feels like that to me because last season’s tournament was that much interesting, especially if, like me, you enjoyed your team’s run.
That is why is it with absolute pleasure that I write the words ‘the Vodacom Super Rugby is back!’ It comes back to us tomorrow, when the Melbourne Rebels will host the Blues in Australia for this season’s first match. But of course the battles between the teams from Down Under will not be as interesting to us South Africans as those that involve our own teams, which is why I can’t wait for duels such us that of the Emirates Lions and the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and the Stormers versus Blue Bulls in Cape Town on Saturday.
Great excitement engulfed me when I finally saw the Lions squad I had been waiting for for weeks. The list of 40 men that have been chosen by coach Johan ‘Ackers’ Ackermann looks very solid and includes eight of the nine Springboks who spent a large part of last year in the green and gold jersey.
It was also announced that the revered Warren Whiteley, who plays eighthman, would retain the captaincy, which is something to be excited about, if where he got his team in the competition last year is anything to go by. What was of special interest to me was seeing three of my favourite players, Faf de Klerk, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Howard Mnisi, also getting the nod, not that I had any doubts about whether they would.
To think that the said squad is pretty much the same one that pushed the envelope ever so impressively last term against some of the best teams in the world is also exciting, more so when you consider that the Lions won’t play against the Kiwis until after the regular season stage. They only have to play against opponents from Australia in this year’s edition (twice at home and against three of their teams Down Under), their fellow compatriots and against newboys Jaguares from Argentina and the Sunwolves from Japan just like the previous year, which should be easier than last year’s road to the final.
I’m tempted to say that the ‘Pride of Jozi’ will go one better than last season and actually win the competition, given how close they came; but the thought of possibly facing the Crusaders or defending champions Hurricanes, who are both from New Zealand, at the latter stages brings me back to Earth.
It also doesn’t help that the Lions had an awful Currie Cup season right after last year’s Super Rugby, where they were supposed to be the proud defending champions and the team to beat … but sadly, they were anything but. Instead, they were embarrassingly beaten by the likes of Griquas (imagine!) and the current champions, Cheetahs (twice!), on their way to relinquishing their status as the country’s best team.
Even more embarrassing was the fact that they could only manage to scrape through to that competition’s knockout stages, thanks to a last regular season match win against the Sharks at the Emirates Airline Park in Jo’burg. I was at the stadium that day to witness a very entertaining match of two halves, which the Lions dramatically swung back in their favour following a less-than-impressive first half.
It is against this scarring memory of that horrible Currie Cup season that the logic that the Lions will be better prepared to face the Kiwis this year, given last year’s experience, has to compete – and therefore I don’t know what to think. But trust them to make the country proud, I wouldn’t rule out another appearance in the final.
The tournament will end of August 5. Anyone for predictions?
*Picture taken from: rugby15.co.za