URC primer: SA’s best rookie, comeback king and more …

The inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship had thrills, spills and ended with the unexpected twist of the Stormers lifting the trophy. DYLAN JACK takes a stab at predicting what the new season has in store. Has it been four months already? Time has flown since the Stormers outperformed all expectations to lift the gigantic URC trophy on home soil, in the first major club final contested by South African teams since 2010. URC FIXTURES: Stormers The Vodacom Bulls were the unfortunate silver medallists on that day, leaving Jake White fuming and this may fuel a title charge in their next campaign, which gets under way against the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday. The defending champions and the Sharks start their campaigns one week later. The Sharks travel to Italy to face Zebre, while the Stormers host Irish outfit Connacht, but it’s not yet clear whether that will be in Cape Town or Stellenbosch, due to the cancelled Justin Bieber concert. While overshadowed by the ongoing Rugby Championship – certainly not helped by the clash of tournament names – the new season promises more twists and turns than a Chubby Checker concert which should show again why ‘URC = best league’. URC FIXTURES: Bulls Early favourites: The Sharks Last season’s quarter-finalists have splashed out like kids in ‘Sweets from Heaven’ on pocket-money day. In have come a number of big names, plus there has been a complete overhaul of their coaching structure. Rugby names don’t really come bigger in size and stature than Eben Etzebeth, and supersizing seems to have been on the menu in Durban as Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Carlu Sadie have added a combined 247kg to the team. The Bulls and Stormers have also boosted their respective squads considerably, but the sheer level of investment means that the Sharks have to be the early favourites to lead South Africa’s charge. URC FIXTURES: Sharks Most improved player: Wandisile Simelane Simelane has finally escaped Shawshank and the move across the Jukskei to the Bulls will do his career no end of good. The 24-year-old has been a ‘potential player’ for the past three years, offering flashes of what he could be. Having missed out on an opportunity to join the Stormers or Sharks in 2020, Simelane can realise his talent under Jake White, who has shown what he can do with the likes of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie. TRANSFER TRACKER: Bulls, Sharks make early moves Best signing: Rohan Janse van Rensburg The prospect of Janse van Rensburg and Lukhanyo Am uniting in the Sharks midfield should have their opponents waking up in a cold sweat. The former racked up carries and linebreaks for fun at Sale Sharks and adds much-needed muscle to the backline, something the Durban Sharks haven’t really had since Andre Esterhuizen sought greener pastures in England. Rookie of the season: Sacha Mngomezulu 2021-22 was the season when Mngomezulu shot on to the radar, making his URC debut in games with the highest of stakes, before captaining the Junior Springboks in an unbeaten U20 International Series in Italy. This season, Mngomezulu will seal his place as a Stormers regular and start pushing for a starting role. He is my early shout for the ‘Canan Moodie’ award for best rookie. Comeback king: Sbu Nkosi Poor form, a gastrointestinal virus, and then an ankle injury that required surgery had many wondering whether Nkosi would ever get back to his best. However, in 2022-23 Nkosi will be dropping bars on the field in the blue of the Bulls, as opposed to in a music studio. A refocused Nkosi is a dangerous Nkosi. Wily veteran: Deon Fourie Perhaps I should just change this to the ‘Deon Fourie’ award, such has been the 35-year-old’s impact since returning to the Stormers. He became the oldest Springbok debutant against Wales, fulfilling a lifelong dream, but that doesn’t mean Fourie has run out of goals to achieve – far from it. ‘Brannas’, as he is known to his teammates, should only be more fired up by his Bok experience, which means that the Stormers’ opponents can expect him to be even more of a nuisance and irritation this season. Saffa Abroad of the season: RG Snyman To say that 2021 was a difficult year for RG Snyman would be the understatement of the decade. However, if Munster’s social media is anything to go by, it seems the Bok lock has bounced back for the better. Videos of the ‘Viking’ looking fitter and stronger than ever bodes well for his 2022-23 season. URC FIXTURES: Lions Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix The post URC primer: SA’s best rookie, comeback king and more … appeared first on SA Rugby magazine.

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