The Sharks will score a Super Rugby win that will be worth two because of the opponent and the venue. Any victory against the Lions is a good one – and more so if that win is at Ellis Park.
My Sport24 column was emphatic, that for now (before a minute of the competition has been played) I am backing the Sharks to be the top South African team.
It’s just a hunch for now and any opinion a month from now will be based on form and obviously be more informed.
I have the Sharks to win by six points.
Dick Muir’s return to the Sharks will add a dimension that was lacking a season ago. He is a wonderful foil to head coach Robert du Preez and when realism connects with romance it has the potential to rock.
If there is doubt at all when it comes to the Sharks, it’s because of the memory of that Currie Cup final mauling. It’s only something that can be buried when they face the better packs in the tournament like the Crusaders and Stormers.
I really don’t know what to make of the Stormers. But at home, they will be too strong for the best of Argentina.
I have them to win by 11 points.
The question mark around the Stormers is they offer so much but invariably deliver so little in the big moments.
They have twice lost home quarter-final matches in the past two seasons, and while there was massive improvement between 2016 and 2017, they still crashed out at the same stage of the competition.
As for the Lions.
They have easily been South Africa’s best team in the last three seasons. I had them to win the South African Conference in 2017 and win the tournament. When they got the home final I was convinced the title would again be in South Africa.
Warren Whiteley’s influence will be apparent. They have a fantastic home record against the Sharks, yet I am picking the Sharks to win.
The assistant coach, the highly rated Swys du Bruin, is now the head coach. A new era and a new challenge.
A new style of play?
For me, the Lions peaked in 2017 and this will be a year of rebuilding.
I see them being a mixed bag; better than the Bulls but not quite as good as the Sharks and Stormers.
Stormers v Jaguares, Cape Town – 15:05
15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Substitutes: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 George Whitehead, 23 JJ Engelbrecht.
15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertanou, 8 Tomas Lezana, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Felipe Arregui
Lions v Sharks – 17:15
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Substitutes: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg
15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (captain), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman
Substitutes: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Tendai Mtawarira, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Kobus van Wyk