Tue, 27 Oct 2020

Opportunity knocks for veteran Morne Steyn and youngster Sanele Nohamba when competitive rugby restarts in South Africa on Friday after a six-month coronavirus-induced suspension.

Former Springbok Steyn plays flyhalf for the Bulls and Test hopeful Nohamba scrumhalf for the Sharks as a single-round Super Rugby Unlocked competition kicks off.

South Africa are following in the footsteps of New Zealand and Australia, who staged domestic Super Rugby championships after the five-nation version halted in mid March due to Covid-19 and has since folded.

The Cheetahs, Griquas, Lions, Pumas and Stormers are the other five teams involved, with one match each Friday and two on Saturdays for seven weeks behind closed doors.

Steyn, 36, returned to Pretoria from France last year, tasked with training Manie Libbok to succeed Montpellier-bound Handre Pollard as the Bulls' playmaker.

But Libbok has since left for the Sharks and new Bulls coach Jake White says Steyn is "exactly the sort of general we need".

"He is a lot more athletic than people think and the older he gets the more he understands what he can and cannot do.

"Morne is an unbelievable team guy, full of energy, and there is no doubt that he still has a massive role to play at the Bulls."

Superb goal-kicker Steyn starts in the number 10 shirt against the Griquas in Pretoria on Saturday and it would be a shock if the Bulls fail to win convincingly.

White went on a buying and selling spree soon after taking over last March and among his additions is 2019 World Cup-winning Springbok number eight Duane Vermeulen.

Former South Africa loose forward Arno Botha will lead the side this weekend as first-choice captain Vermeulen suffered a slight knee injury in a Springboks trial last weekend.

Meanwhile, the transfer of Louis Schreuder to English Premiership club Newcastle Falcons opened the door for Nohamba, who can combine traditional scrum-half duties with goal-kicking.

He impressed in the Springboks trial, leading to praise from Rugby World Cup skipper and flanker Siya Kolisi.

"Before the match I told Sanele he must not 'disappear' when the going gets tough and he assured me I must not worry about that," said Kolisi.

"He gives the ball nicely to the forwards and gets it quickly out of the breakdowns. I witnessed a confident young man enjoying himself.

"I'm sure we will see a lot of Sanele in Super Rugby Unlocked and he is destined to become one of the leaders at the Sharks."

A Sharks side captained by World Cup centre Lukhanyo Am hosts the Lions in Durban on Friday in the highlight of the first round.

The home side will be handicapped, though, by the absence of Springbok wingers Sibusiso Nkosi (injured) and Makazole Mapimpi (temporary transfer to Japan).

The Lions star is flyhalf Elton Jantjies, the back-up playmaker to Pollard in the triumphant World Cup campaign in Japan, while they welcome back flanker Jaco Kriel after his stint with Gloucester.

No team will be more determined to do well than the Cheetahs, who are furious at being dumped from the Pro14 competition to make way for the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.

The Bloemfontein outfit joined a competition that includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams only three years ago after being kicked out of Super Rugby.

"SA Rugby have thrown us under the bus. It is really frustrating and we are very unhappy with our situation," fumed Cheetahs managing director Harold Verster.

Expect a strong reaction from a Cheetahs side that includes Springbok utility back Francois Steyn, starting with a home match on Saturday against the Pumas from northeastern city Mbombela.

The Stormers, who boast eight World Cup winners including 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit, have a bye.

A disadvantage for the Cape Town outfit is having only two home fixtures out of six with visits to the Bulls and Sharks among the away outings.

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