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Lions to roar again in Super Rugby

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 20/02/2017 By Nick Said

South Africa's Super Rugby hopes are likely to rest with last year's beaten finalists the Lions again but the Bulls are also expected to make a charge this season with the return from injury of mercurial first five-eighth Handre Pollard.

The Stormers should be in the hunt for a play-off place as well, despite coming up against the powerful New Zealand teams in the round-robin phase, but for the rest of the South African contingent it is likely to be another season of disappointment.

On paper at least, the Lions appear to have the easier pool phase draw and have managed to retain the bulk of their strong 2016 side.

The loss of flanker Warwick Tecklenburg (retirement) and prop Julian Redelinghuys (injury) will weaken the pack, but the introduction of World Sevens standout Kwagga Smith at loose-forward brings some dynamism to the back row.

The Bulls have been boosted by the return of Pollard, who missed the entire 2016 season with a knee injury. In addition to being the pivot for their attack, Pollard will also serve as captain and much of their success will rest on his shoulders.

Just to be back on the field will be a relief for the 23-year-old, who came close to having his arm amputated last year due to complications from a shoulder operation he underwent while sidelined with his knee injury.

His intelligence, running and reliable boot will give the Bulls an extra dimension and allow them to play a more expansive game if they choose.

The side warmed up for the season with a 28-7 victory over the Chiefs in Brisbane this month.

The Stormers have brought in New Zealand skills coach Paul Feeney to assist Robbie Fleck with the aim of bringing more than just muscle to their game up front.

That being said, they will once again depend heavily on their dynamic lock pairing of Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit at the set-piece, though the addition of jet-heeled winger Seabelo Senatla, the top player on the World Sevens circuit in 2016, will bring a new dimension.

The Durban-based Sharks, under new coach Robert du Preez, squeezed into the play-offs last season but lack the depth in their squad to be serious contenders in 2017.

The Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs won the domestic Currie Cup but have lost key lock Lood de Jager to the Bulls while the struggling Southern Kings from Port Elizabeth are expected to be fodder for opponents again.

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