Bok captain John Smit is expecting blood and thunder when South Africa’s franchises meet during the Super 14 this year.
With the threat of relegation hanging over SA’s five franchises like a sword, local derbies will be more fiercely fought than ever before.
Gone are the days when SA sides would support each other against Australian and New Zealand opposition. The national brotherhood is gone, and it’s every franchise for itself.
The Super 14 kicks off with two local derbies next weekend.
First up is a rematch of the Currie Cup final, when the Cheetahs make their tournament debut against the Bulls in Bloem. The decider at Loftus last year was one of the most brutal matches in South African history. The Cheetahs took the fight to the champions (legally or illegally depending on who you support) and the Bully Boys will be hungry for revenge.
In Jo’burg, the Cats will bare their claws for the Stormers at Ellis Park. Frans Ludeke’s side are the early favourites to go down, while Kobus van der Merwe’s boys are feeling the pressure like never before. Neither side can afford to lose and neither side will give an inch.
The one South African team not facing local opposition in round one are the Sharks, who meet the Chiefs in Durban. They will, however, be without inspirational captain John Smit.
Smit will miss the first three weeks of the competition, including the Sharks’ crunch fixture against the Cheetahs in round two, after being banned for dangerous play when he rammed his elbow into the jaw of French captain Jerome Thion in Paris last year.
He was then ruled out for another round, after undergoing an operation to a stomach muscle. With a bit of luck, the Sharks could have their hooker back in training by 5 March and back on the field for the match against the Waratahs in Sydney.
Speaking on Boots & All, Smit acknowledged the challenge facing the Durbanites.
“With the threat of relegation this year, I can only image how ugly the local derbies will be,” he said. “We’ve got a very tough draw, and don’t have much negotiating power because we came last in 2005.”
Smit said the two extra games in the Super 14 would make it a far tougher assignment than the old Super 12.
“Thirteen games is a lot of rugby,” he said. “We’ll probably start feeling like the cricketers [who are walking wounded in Australia] towards the end of the competition.”
Still, Smit remained positive about the season ahead. “Our squad has a lot more depth than last year,” he said. “We have a young squad, who can play. I can only see good things for the Sharks this season.”