Last year’s unofficial champions Free State will need a collective effort to defend their title in PE.
In 2011, Free State grabbed wins over the Pumas (56-32), the Blue Bulls (14-11) and the Golden Lions (28-17) to be crowned as the top side. This was thanks to their strong team, that consisted of SA School representatives flank Leneve Damens, prop Neethling Fouche, wing Ruwellyn Isbell, flyhalf Pieter Jordaan and centres Jan Serfontein and Dries Swanepoel.
This year, however, they don’t have many individual stars. Captain Jordaan, who is the younger brother of Sharks and Baby Boks flyer Paul Jordaan, is the only survivour from last year’s squad. He’s also been shifted to outside centre, in the hopes that he will add some bite in the midfield.
Free State head coach Dirkie Groenewald believes his charges will be competitive if they gain the necessary confidence.
‘We don’t have the stars of 2011, but this team can still do well,’ Groenewald told Schoolboy Derby. ‘They’re just lacking in confidence. We lost 37-10 to the Blue Bulls in a trial game and conceded four tries, but we can do so much better. Our defence just needs work.
‘The positives are that we have a strong pack and the backline looks very dangerous when they get going. I’m hoping Pieter Jordaan will have a good tournament for us. If these boys can believe in themselves and in the game plan, we’ll do well.’
Free State face a tough encounter in their opening game as they face KZN, who boast a strong squad this year.
‘The Sharks can clean out everybody on their day. They’re always a good side, so it’s going to be a difficult match. But we have to win on the Monday. If our confidence is up there, we will surprise many people.’
Free State – 15 EW Viljoen (Grey College), 14 Olwethu Ndakisa (Louis Botha), 13 Pieter Jordaan (Grey College, c), 12 Stephan Janse van Rensburg (Grey College), 11 Lee-hane Ontong (President Steyn), 10 Luke Cyster (Louis Botha), 9 Juandré van der Berg (Sentraal), 8 Edward Schmidt (Grey College), 7 Stefan Kruger (Sentraal), 6 Refiloe Rampeta (Louis Botha), 5 Dillon Harlen (Grey College), 4 Awie Thompson (Grey College), 3 Ruan Kramer (Grey College), 2 Corniel Els (Grey College), 1 Ox Nche (Louis Botha).
Subs: 16 Markus Odendaal (Grey College), 17 Othello Sebotsha (Louis Botha), 18 Andrew du Plessis (Grey College), 19 Byron Matthews (Louis Botha), 20 Barend Bornman (Grey College), 21 Gomolemo Minnie (HTS Louis Botha), 22 Chelton Fortuin (Louis Botha), 23 Gareth de Bruin (Grey College).
KZN – 15 Jesse Kriel (Maritzburg College), 14 Bruce Arnott (Michaelhouse), 13 Michael Mvelase (Michaelhouse), 12 Sandile Kubheka (Kearsney), 11 Corne Vermaak (Glenwood), 10 Rob Anderson (Michaelhouse), 9 Cameron Wright (Hilton), 8 Josh Moon (Michaelhouse), 7 Jean-Luc du Preez (Kearsney), 6 Carel Swart (Glenwood), 5 Daniel du Preez (Kearsney), 4 Justin Moberly (Michaelhouse), 3 Mvevo Khumalo (Maritzburg College), 2 Vuyo Khatide (Maritzburg College), 1 Pat Sikhosana (Port Shepstone).
Subs: 16 Steven Hardman (Michaelhouse), 17 Mzizi Zondi (Westville), 18 Sihle Nqxabi (Glenwood), 19 Michael van Aardt (Glenwood), 20 Mondli Nkosi (George Campbell), 21 Nkululeko Marwana (Glenwood), 22 Mthokozisi Makhabela (Glenwood).
By Gareth Duncan