Watercooler chat: Super Rugby first round
South Africa and New Zealand's franchises kick off their Super Rugby campaigns this weekend. The supersport.com team will be on hand all morning to discuss everything that is going on.
Share your thoughts on what it is you'd like to see happen and we will aim to answer all your questions, share your opinions and give you all the relevant information.
The team today will be made up of senior correspondents Brenden Nel and Gavin Rich, as well as site editor Johan Coetzee.
To interact with us, make use of the Facebook comments section below this article or get us on Twitter making use of the hashtag #sswatercooler.
We asked Brenden and Gavin to get the ball rolling and give us their opinions about the respective teams they cover. How did the pre-season go, what is the mood in the camp, what are the prospects? Here is what they gave us:
Gavin Rich (@blbby15): The two coastal franchises were the top two teams in South Africa last year in both the main competitions, Super Rugby and Currie Cup. And with both of them having boosted their depth since last year's tournament, the Bulls are going to have their work cut out to disprove the general feeling that it will be a two horse race for South African conference honours.
The Stormers topped the log last year, and have been working at bringing the attacking edge they felt they missed in 2012. Their defence got them to the semifinal, but they fell short when asked to attack in the last 20 minutes of the game against the Sharks, when the Durbanites were out on their feet. In this regard, they've been helped by the arrival of two Lions Springboks on loan transfer, with Jaco Taute the sort of counter-attacking fullback that could just galvanise the Stormers' attacking game. Elton Jantjies is a clever player with a good boot and he could push Peter Grant for his place in the starting team once Grant is available again. There is also more depth at forward, though much could hinge here on how skipper Schalk Burger recovers after his long layoff. The Stormers broke their trophy drought in the domestic tournament last year and while you can't compare the two, the monkey is at least off their back when they go into knockout games. This could well be the year they win the trophy.
The same can be said though of the Sharks, who peaked when it mattered most last season, towards the end, but then had too much work to do because they had failed to win the conference. With Frans Steyn back and a smattering of young players like Cobus Reinach having graduated to this level through a relatively successful Currie Cup campaign (they lost the final but won the topped the log comfortably), they have the depth to win consistently enough in the early stages to challenge for the conference title this year. If they do that, this could be the year where they make up for the 2007 disaster when they failed to become the first South African team to win the competition only because they conceded a bizarre late try to the Bulls at the end of a final they had dominated most of the way. Which will it be, the Stormers or the Sharks? That's anyone's guess at this stage as they are both strong and have similar strengths, but it would be a surprise if they didn't both finish in the top four of the overall log and make the semifinals.
The Kings are the newcomers and everyone is expecting them to be thrashed every week, which probably won't be too far from the mark - particularly once the hype of them being back has worn off and they sustain a few injuries. But there are few leaders as good as Luke Watson is, and there are some clever men among the Kings management, so don't be too surprised if they win a game or two that no-one expects them too. The expectation though is that they will finish last, and probably by some distance.
Brenden Nel (@brendennel):
The Vodacom Bulls start with a much more settled squad this year, and loads of talent knocking on the door. Unbeaten and impressive in their opening two pre-season fixtures, the Bulls will be looking to surprise many who have already written them off with a better showing than their sixth place last year. Watch out for young talent such as Arno Botha, Jan Serfontein and Handre Pollard, with Lionel Mapoe moving across from the Lions to bolster the backline.
The Toyota Cheetahs will be hoping for a better year than their previous few, with coach Naka Drotske happy that his depth is better this year “than ever before”. But while the Cheetahs play a great brand of rugby, their defence has often let them down and Drotske will be hoping this comes right this year. The emergence of Johan Goosen as a gamebreaker and addition of Johan Sadie in the backline gives them more options, but the two factors which have been their undoing over the past few seasons – injuries and defence – will need to be overcome if they are to make an impact this season.
There you have it. Now it's time for you to tell us what you think. What do you think of your team's chances, and who do you fancy for the title?