Cape Town - The announcement on Tuesday that most of the Western Province World Cup Springboks remain committed to the union for next year is confirmation that at least for one South African Super Rugby franchise there may be life after the World Cup.
Most of the local franchises have been decimated by departures and retirements but the Stormers will go into the new Super Rugby season with the core of the World Cup winning pack on their books. In addition to the eight Springboks who have signed contract extensions, the Stormers will also still have the services of fellow Boks Herschel Jantjies and Wilco Louw, who are still on contract.
Bok skipper Siya Kolisi heads the list of players who have committed to 2020, and he is joined by World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit, props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe and hooker Bongi Mbonambi from the pack that beat England in the World Cup final just six weeks ago.
Scarra Ntubeni, who became a Bok just before the World Cup although he did not go to Japan, Damian Willemse, who went to Japan as a replacement for the injured Jesse Kriel, and Dillyn Leyds are the other players with Bok colours that have signed until 2021. It is understood that the prospect of facing the British and Irish Lions in 2021 was a big draw for the players who re-committed.
Cobus Wiese, Jaco Coetzee and Ruhan Nel are players on the fringes of Bok selection who are still under contract, with the loose forward and second row stocks being boosted by Juarno Augustus, Johan du Toit, Nama Xaba, Ben-Jason Dixon, Chris van Zyl and JD Schickerling all signing new contracts.
Props Kwenzo Blose, Leon Lyons and Neethling Fouche are gaining in experience and will off-set the departure of Michael Kumbirai (Sharks) and Carlu Sadie. With Ali Vermaak reportedly over his injury problems, the Stormers won’t lack for front-row depth, with Boks on the bench and in the starting team.
If the Stormers have a potential weakness it is at the back, where the departure of Damian de Allende will leave a big hole to fill. Coach John Dobson will be hoping that Dan du Plessis is able to get through the season without being blighted by the injuries that have held back his career. Ditto for Dan’s cousin, flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis.
The Stormers are currently busy with their pre-season camp in George and were joined by their Springbok World Cup contingent last week. One of the first priorities Dobson faces is to get everyone on the same page with regards the team culture, with a very clear message likely to be spelt out to those players who have now experienced World Cup success that their career narrative didn’t end in the global final at Yokohama.
In addition to the established stars, there are several young players with huge promise, such as Salmaan Moerat and Ernst van Rhyn, both of them former national age group captains, who could do with the guidance offered by the World Cup winners as they start to work towards building a new dynasty at WP.
"We know what these players offer on and off the field, the challenge now is to get the most out of their considerable talents," said Dobson.
Kolisi, who of course will continue as Stormers captain, said that by keeping the core of the squad together, the Stormers have a great opportunity to achieve something special next season.
"I have been playing with some of these guys my whole career and we are all looking forward to reaching new heights in a Stormers jersey,” said Kolisi.
“We have a strong group of senior players and talented youngsters coming through all the time, which is what we need to reach our goal of rewarding the Newlands faithful for their incredible support.
"I know it has been a tough few years for us and we really appreciate them for sticking with us and hopefully we will have plenty to celebrate in the future."
Western Province Rugby Group CEO Paul Zacks said that given the strength of the players contracted, the future looks bright for the Stormers.
"While the introduction of the new contracting model, salary caps and the number of senior players that we can contract has made it a challenging process, I am most pleased to confirm that we have managed to retain the majority of our senior players for 2020 and beyond,” said Zacks.
"It is encouraging to see how many top players have bought into our vision for the future and we look forward to seeing them help develop some of the outstanding young talent we have coming through the ranks in the years to come.”
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