South Africa’s highest finishing team from 2015 kicks off their Super Rugby campaign against their oldest foes from Pretoria. The Stormers impressed with a win over the Jaguares in their warm up clash.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have been hit hard with news of Handre Pollard’s injury and feature a predominantly young side as coach Nollis Marias attempts to usher in a new generation of stars. That, combined with home ground advantage at Newlands, should see the Cape Town-based franchise earn an easy win.
Kings v Sharks – Saturday, 1505
The news around the inclusion of the Kings into Super Rugby has been anything but positive, with the franchise in financial turmoil. While they have held on to some senior players, many have flown the coop, leaving very green replacements in their wake.
The Sharks will be without pivot Patrick Lambie due to injury, but will be buoyed by two impressive wins in France over Toulon and Toulouse. The three-time finalists should have simply too much fire power for the Kings as they hunt down a bonus point win.
Lions v Sunwolves – Saturday, 0615
Whatever the result, it will be a day to remember in Tokyo as the Japanese capital hosts its first ever Super Rugby clash.
The Sunwolves will no doubt be looking to make a stellar start to the season and will fancy their chances against Lions side that was humbled by the Jaguares in a warm up match. However, let’s not forget that this group of Lions players went unbeaten at the Currie Cup in 2015, so they will be no pushover.
It’s a tough one to call, but the Johan Ackermann’s men should have the power and skill to start their 2016 with a win.
Cheetahs v Jaguares – Friday, 1900
Like the Kings, the Cheetahs have lost a host of players for 2016. However, they will welcome the return of fly-half Sias Ebersohn from the Force, who has the ability to control a game with his tactical boot.
Meanwhile, the Jaguares lived up to the hype when they rolled over Currie Cup champions the Lions in Johannesburg. Many are picking the Argentine side as finalists and a win in Bloemfontein could set them on their way to glory.
Blues v Highlanders – Friday, 0835
The defending champions travel to Auckland for a tricky opening fixture against the Blues. The men from Eden Park have been the underachievers of the last few seasons, grabbing just three wins last year. New coach Tana Umaga has said all the right things and is hoping to turn it around.
Meanwhile, it should be back to business for the Highlanders, who enjoyed a big win over their northern rivals in Auckland last year. We can expect the same to happen again.
Brumbies v Hurricanes – Friday 1045
The Brumbies last run out in the competition was against the Hurricanes in the semi-finals in 2015, where they were dominated in Wellington.
This time around, coach Stephan Larkham will be eager to put right those wrongs with a strong home performance.
However, the Hurricanes are in as rampant a mood as ever, having annihilated former champions Crusaders 74-7 in a re-season clash.
Crusaders v Chiefs – Saturday, 0835
While the Seven-time champions are licking their wounds after the Hurricanes loss, they have a squad that will no doubt be up there come playoff time.
The loss of legends such as Dan Carter and Richie McCaw will leave big holes but Canterbury always seems to have a conveyor belt of quality players just waiting to make their mark.
The Chiefs defeated the Waratahs in their warm up match but have been struggling with injuries. One can expect a backlash from the Crusaders at home on Saturday.
Waratahs v Reds – Saturday 1045
The Sydney-based franchise looked so good for so much of the 2015 season, but fell in the semi-finals to an inspired Highlanders team.
Pivot Bernard Foley is key to their 2016 hopes but he is another number ten suffering from injury and is in doubt for the opening fixture.
Having finished in 13th place in last year, the Reds have it all to prove. Key signings such as Japanese star Ayumu Goromaru and Kane Douglas should help their cause, but expect them to be on losing side this weekend.
Force v Rebels – Saturday, 1255
The Force were the bottom feeders of the 2015 season and an opening win in Perth will go a long way to igniting some hope amongst the fans.
The new midfield paring of Peter Grant and Alby Mathewson are key to their season.
The Rebels, however, enjoyed some ascendency last year and will be buoyed by the arrival of workhorse Adam Thomson in the forwards. The Melbourne-based team should manage to grind out a win against the Force, who lack experience in key positions.