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FEELING THE HEAT

South Africa’s Super Rugby players sucked in their bellies after a short holiday break and returned to the most feared part of the year, pre-season in brutal summer heat. The Stormers arrived at their Bellville base to temperatures in the low to mid-30s while the Sharks had the intense Durban humidity to contend with as well as soaring temperatures.

January is usually characterised by short, intense field sessions, rather than long, sapping days in the sun. As if the heat wasn’t bad enough, the fitness coaches and medical staff were on hand to measure which players stuck to their ‘active rest’ programmes and who had extra slices of pud and more beers than they should have around summer braais. Those that fail the tests will feel the heat in more ways than one over the coming weeks.

SUPER RUGBY TO UNEARTH NEW TALENT

Openside flank Jaco Kriel toured Britain, Ireland and Italy with the Springboks last November and did little more than carry tackle bags. But watch out for his menacing presence when he steps out for the Lions in Super Rugby. Kriel was outstanding during the Currie Cup and should enhance his future South Africa prospects during the tournament. The same goes for hooker Bongi Mbonambi, who has moved from the Bulls to the Stormers in search of more game time.

Mbonambi was criminally underused in Pretoria but at the Stormers he should be given a fairer crack to cement the No 2 jersey, although he will be up against Bok tourist Scarra Ntubeni.

Kriel deal: Jaco Kriel in action for the Lions

Kriel deal: Jaco Kriel in action for the Lions

WHITE QUIETLY SLIPS OUT OF SA FOR FRANCE

After parting ways with the Sharks after last year’s Super Rugby tournament, Jake White spent several months consulting to the likes of Tonga and holed up in his luxurious home in the town of Hermanus, 90 minutes from Cape Town. But Montpellier lured him off the sun lounger to take on a six-month hospitable job after losing nine games in a row.

White’s magic worked, with Montpellier beating reigning French champions Toulon in his first game in charge. White has historically taken struggling teams and turned them into winners in short timeframes. It started at Jeppe Boys High in Johannesburg. When he became first XV coach in 1989 the team were competitive but hardly a top rugby school. By 1990 they were the best team in Johannesburg and stayed there for the next five years. With White’s guidance the SA under-20 team went from massive underachievers to world champions in one season. The Springboks recovered from a laughing stock in 2003 to Tri-Nations champions in one year under White. They also won the 2007 World Cup. The Brumbies went from 13th in Super Rugby to runners-up in two years under White. He also took the Sharks back to the Super Rugby play-offs last year – the only South African team to reach the last six.

Typically though, White’s move to Montpellier was both welcomed and lamented by the SA rugby public, with many fans calling him ‘mercenary’ and others bemoaning why such a successful coach isn’t appreciated in his own country.

TREU APPOINTED BY THE STORMERS

Former SA and Kenya Sevens coach Paul Treu will make his first serious move into 15s coaching as part of the Stormers’ set-up during this season’s Super Rugby tournament. Treu, who led the BlitzBoks to the 2009 HSBC World Sevens Series title and to 14 tournament wins on the circuit as head coach over 10 seasons, will initially handle the Stormers’ defensive duties.

Current head coach Allister Coetzee is in negotiations to renew his contract for another three years but there has been interest from Japan about his services. Treu, once he has gained appropriate 15s experience, could be the perfect replacement should Coetzee leave.

In the middle of things: JP Pietersen playing for the Boks

In the middle of things: JP Pietersen playing for the Boks

PIETERSEN CENTRE EXPERIMENT TO CONTINUE

Bok wing JP Pietersen could find himself at centre for the Sharks during the second half of the Super Rugby competition once he returns from his Japanese club duties with the Panasonic Wild Knights. With Bok skipper Jean de Villiers in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup, Jaque Fourie retired and Frans Steyn in self-imposed Springbok exile, Pietersen has emerged as the only viable answer at 13 at international level.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer will put pressure on the Sharks coaching staff to use Pietersen in the midfield to ensure he has enough experience after playing most of his rugby on the wing.