We have had the wildly successful Super Rugby Aotearoa featuring the Super Rugby teams from New Zealand. We have had the mildly successful Super Rugby AU featuring the Super Rugby squads from Australia. Finally, we will have Super Rugby Unlocked, a competition featuring the Super Rugby franchises, a team most recently playing in the Pro14, and a couple of Currie Cup sides to round out the seven participants.
Here’s how the franchises stack up:
Bulls – 1.40
The Bulls are the favorites to win this six-match competition and they get a nice break as they take on Griquas in Round 1. It is a team that has a wonderful blend of youth and experience, with Springboks, Junior Springboks, and Blitzboks dotted all over the field. The Bulls will be hoping the knee injury suffered by skipper Duane Vermeulen suffered last weekend isn’t anything serious enough to keep him out of the big games to come.
Stormers – 2.20
The biggest threat to the Bulls will be the Stormers. They have nine Springboks in their 47-man squad for the competition, including the likes of Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and Damian Willemse. This is a vastly experienced team that has the opportunity to sprinkle in youth as and where needed to grow their depth for the future. The Stormers are the pick with BetXChange to win the whole competition.
Sharks – 3.00
The Sharks will be looking for 21-year-old scrum-half Sanele Nohamba to lead them in this competition after Louis Schreuder – the more experienced option at No. 9 – was released from his contract during lockdown. Nohamba is one of a number of exciting prospects the Sharks will be looking to blood here, with players such as flanker Mpilo Gumede, fullback Thaakir Abrahams, and South Africa U-20 captain Phepso Buthelezi all also looking to star.
Lions – 6.00
The Lions were rooted to the bottom of the South African Super Rugby Conference when Covid-19 shut down the season in the Spring. They had just one win from their six games in what looked like it was going to be a rebuilding year. The Lions’ weakness is in their pack – a problem in South Africa – and hey will need to find a way to not get exposed in the tight by the more favored teams if they are to put up a surprise challenge for the title.
Cheetahs – 20.00
Clearly the most interesting team in the comp, the Cheetahs feel like they have a point to prove after being thrown unceremoniously out to land in the Northern Hemisphere in 2017. The Cheetahs will have a couple of players with their own redemption stories on the line too in Springboks scrum-half Ruan Pienaar and centre Frans Steyn. The two veterans will provide a stabilizing presence for a side that looks certain to upend one of the big boys somewhere along the way.
Griquas – 66.00
Griquas have been doing what they can to bolster their squad for this huge step-up in class. They have brought in a couple of players from the now liquidated Southern Kings in hooker Alandre van Rooyen and loose forward C.J. Velleman. The experience that these two players bring to the Northern Cape will be important if Griquas are to test any of the teams that are seen to be above them in the comp. Their match with Pumas will be the one they focus on here.
Pumas – 66.00
The other rank outsiders, the Pumas take on the Cheetahs in Round 1 in one of the two games that they may think they have a real chance of winning this season. They have some experience of top-level rugby in the likes of No. 8 Willie Engelbrecht, centre (and skipper) Ryan Nell, and fullback Devon Williams, but they are really going to need their lesser no and younger players to step up to what will be a huge challenge. Look at the play of young halfbacks Ginter Smuts and Eddie Fouche to determine if the Pumas are able to stay in touch against the Super Rugby heavyweights.