JOHANNESBURG - Will it be second season blues or sophomore success for the Cheetahs and Kings when the Guinness Pro14 competition kicks off today?
While the Cheetahs made the play-offs in their first season in the Europe-based competition last time out, the Kings struggled and only won once. They are back at it again, kicking off their campaigns this weekend, with the Kings away to Italian side, Zebre, and the Cheetahs away to powerful Irish outfit, Munster.
That match, tomorrow, pits two former Springbok assistant coaches against each other, namely Franco Smith of the Cheetahs and Johan van Graan of Munster. While South Africa fans will keep a close eye on how their teams perform in the coming weeks, there will also be some interest in some of the Europe-based players running out for foreign teams.
In the Zebre team facing the Kings fans will recognise the names of Francois Brummer (flyhalf), Johan Meyer (flank) and Luhandre Luus (hooker). In the Munster side, with now Irish international CJ Stander at No 8, are the likes of Arno Botha (loosie), Chris Cloete (loosie), Jean Kleyn (lock) and Jaco Taute (fullback). Ospreys have in their ranks Hanno Dirksen, who plays on the wing, and Tom Botha, the highly-rated prop.
Former Bulls prop Pierre Schoeman will make his debut for Edingburgh in his bid to become a Test players in a few years time, with one teammate being former Lions utility back Jaco van der Walt. Another former Lions player, lock George Earl, will run out for Cardiff Blues, while former Western Province second row forward Quinn Roux, plays for Connacht and Ireland.
Former SA Junior Bok flyhalf star Brandon Thomson now plays for Glasgow Warriors, while the Scarlets have a big SA contingent including David Bulbring, Werner Kruger, Uzair Cassiem and Clayton Blommetjies.
The Ulster side boasts several high-profile players, who’ll want to make a big impression, including loose-forwards Marcel Coetzee and Jean Deysel, props Wiehann Herbst and Schalk van der Merwe, and utility back Louis Ludik.
Dragons rugby, too, will be represented by a number of SA-born players in Brok Harris (prop), Rynard Landman (lock), Zane Kirchner (fullback), Tiaan Loots (centre) and Jarryd Sage (centre). Italian side Benetton have in their ranks former WP No 9 Dewaldt Duvenhage and Sharks lock Irne Herbst.
PRO14 first round fixtures:
Today: Ospreys v Edinburgh; Zebre v Kings; Cardiff v Leinster
Tomorrow: Connacht v Warriors; Munster v Cheetahs; Ulster v Scarlets; Dragons v Benetton