Jean de Villiers is on the comeback trail, Andries Bekker is in from the cold and Pierre Spies is off to France. It's all happening in South Africa this month
Bulls and Sharks cull mercilessly
The Bulls and the Sharks did little to persuade seasoned veterans to reconsider offers from overseas clubs after both suffering mediocre Super Rugby campaigns. The Bulls will wave goodbye to Springboks Pierre Spies, Flip van der Merwe and Francois Hougaard who are joining Japanese and French clubs after Super Rugby. Promising young flank Jacques du Plessis is also leaving the Loftus kraal for the south of France at Montpellier.
Legendary lock Victor Matfield is retiring for a second time while stalwart wing Akona Ndungane is also hanging up his boots. At the Sharks, a complete overall is starting early with the confirmation that Bok front rowers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis are heading to France to reconnect with former Bok coach Jake White at Montpellier. Flank Willem Alberts is also heading north to French club Stade Francais.
Stormers claim third SA Conference title
The Stormers underlined their credentials as the most successful South African franchise in the 15-team Super Rugby era with their third Conference title in five years. The Bulls and the Sharks have won one each. At the time of writing the play-offs hadn’t been concluded and the Stormers were still in with a chance of winning their maiden overall title.
Coach Allister Coetzee, who will join Japanese club Kobelco Steel in July, has quietly emerged as the most successful South African coach of this era. Since 2011, when Super Rugby expanded to 15 teams Coetzee has led the team 82 times with 52 victories for a 63.4 per cent winning ratio. By contrast the Bulls and Sharks, in the same period, have a 56.1 per cent and 55.8 per cent winning ratio respectively.
Pumas win Vodacom Cup
The unfashionable Mpumalanga Pumas from Nelspruit, which gave South Africa its current player of the year Duane Vermeulen, recently captured the Vodacom Cup title. This competition, which runs concurrently to Super Rugby and features full strength ‘smaller’ unions against second stringers from Super Rugby franchises in their provincial colours, signalled the Pumas’ intentions to become a big club.
They beat Western Province in the final and have laid down a marker for the upcoming Currie Cup. The Pumas will be able to recall several key players such as tighthead prop Vincent Koch (Stormers), lock Lubalalo ‘Giant’ Mtyanda (Sharks), scrumhalf Faf de Klerk (Lions) and flank Renaldo Bothma (Sharks) from Super Rugby loan duty to bolster their ranks in the Currie Cup. Western Province are desperately trying to secure Koch’s services on a permanent basis but the Pumas have so far declined all their offers.
Bulls, Sharks and Stormers all on the lookout for a new coach
After a disappointing Super Rugby campaign with a splintered coaching staff, Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold has indicated there is an intense search to find a new coach. Gold took on duel coaching duties during the campaign alongside Brendan Venter, but the situation did not work. Venter commuted from his medical practice in Cape Town once a week and also handed the pre-season duties while Gold completed his obligations at Kobelco Steel in Japan.
The Stormers are looking to replace Coetzee with a high profile name. John Plumtree, the former Sharks coach, Ireland forward’s coach and now assistant at Super Rugby pacesetters the Hurricanes, has been linked to the job. Former All Black, Western Force and Lions boss John Mitchell has also been approached about his availability in Cape Town. But he lives in Durban and might choose to throw his hat in with the Sharks if they make a concrete offer.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is set for a move upstairs at Loftus with either current Springbok forward’s coach Johan van Graan, or Matfield taking over as coach.
Boks second RWC training camp ticks more boxes – Bekker in mix
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer revealed at a Springbok World Cup training camp in Cape Town that he had had talks with Japan-based lock Andries Bekker about a possible return to Test rugby after two years in the international wilderness. The 2.08m giant who won 29-Test caps, has been unavailable due to contractual constraints with club Kobelco Steel.
But Meyer and Bekker had a heart-to-heart and Bekker said he wanted to play Test rugby again and that he would go back to his club and put in a request. Victor Matfield, 38, is currently the Boks’ first choice No 5 lock. Promising understudy Pieter-Steph du Toit is currently out with a knee injury. Bekker’s availability would solve one problematic position. Meyer is also understood to be badgering veteran centre Jaque Fourie to reconsider his international retirement and make one last push for the World Cup squad.
And finally…Jean de Villiers back in full-training
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has made a remarkable recovery from a horror knee injury sustained against Wales last November and was seen in full training with the Stormers in early June. Coach Allister Coetzee ruled out any chance of De Villiers turning out in the Super Rugby play-offs, but the development was good news for Meyer and the Boks.