Two more sleeps and it’s showtime as the 2019 Super Rugby season kicks off on Friday morning with the Chiefs hosting the Highlanders. It’s easy to make calls after the fact, so here’s the AOR team fearlessing declaring which off-season acquisition will add the most value to his new SA team, and which departed player will be most sorely missed.
Best buy: Duane Vermeulen (Bulls)
Corne Fourie came close to topping both my lists – he is an incredibly under rated player who is already adding value in the Cape given the departures of JC Janse van Rensburg and Caylib Oosthuizen, but there can be only one when it comes to this category. The on-field contribution from the human “Thor” will be obvious, especially in being freed up to roam and smash by ball hawks Paul Schoeman, Roelof Smit, Ruan Steenkamp, Nick de Jager, and Marco van Staden. But it’s off the field where new head coach Pote Human will discover the true gold. They say you can’t buy experience, but the Bulls just have!
Biggest loss: Jacques van Rooyen (Lions)
Most transfer lists have Ruan Dreyer, Fourie and Van Rooyen as the props transferring out of Jozi, but in effect, they have also officially now also lost Julian Redelinghuys to his neck injury. And for a side so massively reliant on their scrum (despite the new rules insisting on a strike from the hooker – something not massive on the Ellis Park “to do” list), these are massive transfers out. Able to do a job at tighthead when the red and white were in strife on that side last year, Van Rooyen comes into his own at loosehead. Francois Louw will be loving that power at Bath, Warren Whiteley and Kwagga Smith less so without it in Jozi.
Best buy: Duane Vermeulen (Bulls)
There’s no competition in this category; the Bulls’ acquisition of Vermeulen is by far the biggest off-season addition in the SA Conference. Part of that has to do with the fact that we’re in an era of rugby in South Africa when free agency news is dominated by international departures, but Vermeulen is a marquee player who would have been on the shortlist for Best Buy status even if most of our top talent wasn’t currently bracing against a European winter.
The Bulls really hit a home run by signing Vermeulen because, aside from the significant value he will add as a gainline guardian, and an authentic voice in the shed, he will fortify a coaching team lacking in experience and therefore confidence.
Vermeulen was the de facto defence coach when he led the Stormers in 2015. The Cape side won 10 matches and the SA Conference title, and only three sides conceded fewer points.
Biggest loss: Franco Mostert
If you window-shopped at the Lions over the past couple of seasons you would have seen freshly-baked attack and juicy tries that led to the Test debuts of finishers such as Aphiwe Dyantyi and Ruan Combrinck. What you may not have seen was the sweaty bloke in the backroom kneading the dough at the heart of the Lions product.
In 2018, Franco Mostert led Super Rugby for minutes played, and lineouts won and stolen, and he ranked among the top five for ball carries and tackles. An undersized, athletic lock, Mostert’s industrial-grade work rate was the biggest cog in a Lions machine built on outworking opponents through superior conditioning.
A host of players have left Doornfontein, and while Mostert may not be among the flashiest of those departures, he will be the one Swys de Bruin misses most.
You’ve read what they think, now let us know where you stand in The Big Debate!