Preview: Super Rugby, Round One
SEARCHING FOR ENTERTAINMENT: It is another new start - not because it is a new season, but there is an attempt to revive an ailing competition.
Going back to 15 teams give the appearance of a more streamlined competition.
However, only time will tell if it is really better and more entertaining.
The South African conference - also awash with changes - gets things underway.
New coaches, some astute recruitment and most of all renewed hope that they could finally end the New Zealand dominance if the competition.
We look at the Round One matches!
Saturday, February 17:
Stormers v Jaguares
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 10.05 Buenos Aires time)
The Stormers are under pressure to win their opening match, simply because they hot the road earlier this year.
After Saturday they have a three-week trip that will see them play the Waratahs, Crusaders and Highlanders.
Given last year's poor performances on tour - when they coughed up more than 50 points twice, losing to the Crusaders (24-57), Highlanders (14-57) and Hurricanes (22-41) in a horror road trip.
Both captain Siyamthanda Kolisi and coach Robbie Fleck spoke about the need to start well against the South American visitors - who have a new coach in Mario Ledesma and suffered defeat in a pre-season match against the Bulls last week.
"We want to be better than we were last year," Kolisi said of their quarterfinal exit in 2017.
"This first game is the most important game for us," the skipper said, adding: "We have to hit the ground running."
Fleck admitted that touring so early in the season brings with it some serious challenges.
However, he defended his team's poor defensive record in 2017, saying the 64 tries they scored were more than the 61 they conceded - even though they were fifth worst in the competition and by some distance the worst of the teams that made the play-offs.
"We should concentrate on the positives, which is our attack," the coach said, adding: "It is a major change from what we did in the past.
"Yes, we conceded some tries, [but] we conceded most of those tries on tour [in New Zealand].
"When we got back we were a better defensive outfit and we conceded just one try in the quarterfinal [loss] to the Chiefs."
He admitted that because they tour a lot earlier, the Stormers "have to win this game".
The Stormers have won both their previous encounters with the Argentine franchise.
So it's not surprising Jaguares coach Mario Ledesma was cautious about the opening match.
He pointed to the physical nature of the home team and their solid defence.
Ledesma has no doubt that his team will have to "physically" impose themselves on the Stormers and be accurate in defence.
"They are very dangerous and have high-quality players," the coach continued.
"In all positions, despite the absence of some important ones [like Springboks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit], they have players who have played for the Springboks, or who will do so in the future."
The biggest challenge, he says, "will be to adapt quickly to the pace of Super Rugby.
"Starting in South Africa is not the easiest, but we are up for the challenge."
2017: Stormers won 32-25, Cape Town
2016: Stormers won 13-8, Buenos Aires
Prediction: The Stormers have won each of their two previous with the Jaguares, though the Argentine squad has picked up a losing bonus point on each occasion. The Stormers have won their season opener in six of the last eight Super Rugby campaigns, including each of the last three. The Jaguares have lost their last four games in South Africa, though they've picked up a losing bonus point in three of those defeats. The Jaguares were the most penalised team in the competition last season, conceding an average of 11.5 penalties per game. Sikhumbuzo Notshe has scored five tries in his last five home games for the Stormers. The Jaguares can win, but don't put your house on it. We feel the Stormers will win by nine points.
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 John Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 George Whitehead, 23 Johannes Engelbrecht.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Tomás Lezana, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Nahuel Tétaz Chaparro, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Felipe Arregui.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Javier Manuel Diaz, 18 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 19 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 20 Marcos Kremer, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Juan Martin Hernandez, 23 Bautista Delguy.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Egon Seconds
TMO: Christie du Preez
Lions v Sharks
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
The big question remains what effect the departure of Johan Ackermann will have on the beaten finalists.
Insiders will tell you that not much will change, but the naysayers will have their doubts.
The consistency for the Lions come in the form of the playing roster, which has a host of Springboks to provide the stability - the likes of Andries Coetzee, Lionel Mapoe, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley (as captain), Francois Mostert, and Malcolm Marx.
The excitement factor will come in the form of young Aphiwe Dyantyi and Sevens Bok Albertus Smith - players with heaps of talent.
It is an intriguing replay of last year's quarterfinal, which the Lions won 23-21 - with the visitors from Durban bemoaning a few contentious calls.
Joey Mongalo, the new defence specialist on a revamped Lions coaching panel, said he felt there might be some 'backlash'.
"They may feel a bit hard done by, by that last play [in the quarterfinal]," Mongalo said.
"I am expecting a lot of emotion in this game," he said.
He pointed to the Sharks set pieces as a major threat.
"However, with Dick Muir coming in [as attack coach] we would expect the Sharks to be a bit more lively on attack," the Lions assistant said.
"They are likely to take the ball a bit more to the edges than they have done in the past."
Sharks coach Robert du Preez said his team "worked extremely hard" on their own game in the pre-season and are not too concerned about what the Lions have been up to.
"What's especially pleasing to see is the vibe and excitement in the group," Du Preez said.
"Every player was given an opportunity during the warm-up games and so many of them put their hands up, which made it extremely difficult to decide on our matchday 23.
"Naturally, the guys who have been left out will feel desperately disappointed as they have all put in the hard yards.
"I stressed the fact that this campaign is going to be a squad effort and every guy will be called upon, at different stages, to contribute to the team's goals.
"This is an important game and a great start will set the tone for our campaign. We are excited to go out there and play."
2017: Lions won 23-21, Johannesburg (preliminary play-off)
2017: Lions won 27-10, Durban
2017: Lions won 34-29, Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 37-10, Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 24-9, Durban
Prediction: The Lions have won their last six games on the bounce against the Sharks; they had picked up just two wins in their 13 prior meetings. The Lions have won four of their last five season openers, though only one of those games saw the home side on the day triumph. The Sharks enter this game on the back of a three-game losing streak, the last time they lost more in succession was a six-game drought in April-May 2015. Elton Jantjies is set to line up for his 100th Super Rugby appearance; the Lions playmaker has scored 67 points in his last six games against the Sharks. Phillip Van Der Walt made 170 tackles in Super Rugby 2017, more than any other player, missing just six further attempts. It is going to be a brutal arm-wrestle, with moments of brilliance thrown in for good measure. To select a winner is tough, but the Lions' record at home and against South African teams (a 17-match unbeaten run dating back to May 2015) means they are slight favourites - and should win by three to five points.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Francois Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobus Adriaanse, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg.
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (captain), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Tendai Mtawarira, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Jacobus van Wyk.
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Marius Jonker
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports