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Coetzee predicts a three-horse race

The bookies and the rugby critics appear to be backing the two coastal franchises to dominate the battle for the South African conference trophy in Super Rugby this year, but Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is expecting a three horse race.

The Stormers have won the conference in both years that the new conference format has been in place, each time doing it with a little bit to spare after doing most of the front-running.

The Sharks joined them in the play-offs in 2011 and the Sharks and the Bulls in 2012, with the Pretoria franchise being the Cape team’s strongest challenger for conference supremacy before they fell away in the last quarter of the competition.

Making the play-offs last year was probably more than many Bulls fans would have expected as they went into a rebuilding period following the loss of a raft of legendary players, including Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw and former stalwart hooker Gary Botha.

Given that they were a new team and yet so troublesome last year, Coetzee’s assessment that they are a better team in 2013 can be taken as an ominous sign by the other teams.

“Definitely, I definitely think they will be a better side this year, much better,” said Coetzee.

“They have an extra arrow in their quiver this year in the form of Victor Matfield. We all know what he has achieved and what expertise he can bring as an attack and lineout coach. He was a successful player and will know what to do to help them start winning consistently. There are certain things that Victor will bring to the side and I think that there are many areas where we can anticipate them executing better.”

Reminded that many were regarding the coastal franchises as the sides vying for the conference trophy, Coetzee seemed surprised by the assessment.

“The Bulls will always be in the mix. They are the only South African franchise to have won this competition three times, and they are a very proud team and union. They have a quality pack and we have seen in the pre-season that Morne Steyn seems to be back to his best, both in kicking out of hand and at posts.

“They are also a settled team. I haven’t seen their team yet but I don’t expect any changes. They have three good centres to choose from, they have a quality halfback pairing who have played a lot of international rugby, and even if Jacques Potgieter doesn’t play they have Arno Botha, who has toured with the Boks.

"With all that depth I don’t know how anyone can write them off and say that only the coastal teams are in the race.”

While the long-range predictions are for the Stormers and Sharks to battle it out for the conference, the bookmakers have apparently given the Stormers a five-point start in Friday’s game, meaning they go to Loftus as underdogs.

“We will have to wait until after the game to find out if they are right or not,” smiled Coetzee.

“But I suppose whoever plays at Loftus has to be the underdogs because of their history. As I said before, they are a very proud franchise and are particularly difficult to beat on their home ground.”

Not that Coetzee is too concerned about his team’s ability to make it a third successive Super Rugby win at Loftus.

“We have a lot of depth this year, and it is the first time since I have been involved with the Stormers that we have had the sort of depth we have now. It’s a big game for us against a quality Bulls outfit at Loftus, but I feel that with the team we have selected we have covered all our bases,” he said.


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