Side Entry: Nothing comic(al) about superhero ‘friendlies’

2019-02-03 06:45

Having not played a minute for his new team (not until 4.15pm this afternoon, anyway), Duane Vermeulen might struggle to buy into the idea that he’s already inadvertently done his bit to promote Super Rugby since his return to South Africa after leaving for French club Toulon four years ago.

But by simply donning a Captain America jersey, the man nicknamed Thor for much of his career in these climes finally got South Africa’s infamously parochial rugby fans vested in the domestic franchises’ initiative to wear jerseys designed like Marvel’s superhero costumes for the Super Rugby derbies this year.

The irony is that, had he made his way back into domestic rugby through his beloved Stormers, he could have actually turned out as Thor today at Cape Town Stadium (Robbie Fleck’s men will wear Thor jerseys, while the Bulls, Sharks and Lions will be Captain America, Black Panther and Spider Man, respectively).

Before the opportunity to have a go at Vermeulen on social media presented itself, the locals had been a little on the ambivalent side about the marketing gimmick, some helpfully pointing out that the idea wasn’t new as it had been tried by the typically innovative Americans.

But to latch on to that would be to miss the fact that, after years of the powers that be in rugby thinking the sport sold itself, they’re finally coming around to the thinking that maybe they need to be a little active in selling it.

I’ll admit that I would have loved a couple of the teams in today’s double-header pre-season friendlies at Cape Town Stadium (the Lions against the Sharks, and the Stormers against the Bulls) to come out as Hancock or Deadpool, but the more conventional costumes are a start.

Speaking of starts, today is one of those days when hope springs eternal for all our franchises, when all four of them have prepared “well” and have a chance of winning – before those pesky New Zealand teams become the fly in the ointment.

To that end, all four of them will be looking for signs today that is the year – the Bulls and the Stormers more so than the others because they will also play each other on the opening weekend of Super Rugby in a few weeks.

Looking at some of those signs, the Bulls have a nice-looking squad on paper, but the question is whether they have the coaching staff in the kindly Pote Human as head coach and assistant coaches mostly made up of people who were retrenched from Loftus only 18 months ago.

On the playing side, Schalk Brits – who will be what should be a gingerly 38 in May – finally gets to show us what we’ve been missing while he travelled the world with the Springboks without playing last year after being convinced out of retirement by Bok coach Rassie Erasmus.

Warrick Gelant, whose footwork is so smooth he should be Frozone from The Incredibles, is back from a shoulder injury at fullback, with loose head prop Lizo Gqoboka said to be so fit he’s sporting a six-pack and is struggling to keep weight on.

As ever, the Stormers have the squad depth, but there are questions about their coaching. However, with serial winner and team builder John Dobson and underrated defence coach Norman Laker rumoured to be in tow this season, this may be a more stubborn Cape Town mob.

At the Sharks, Curwin Bosch getting a start in the warm-up against the Lions while Rob du Preez, the son of coach Robert, is presumably rested for the real thing, is an opportunity to pose a Black Panther-like challenge that hopefully ends up with him asking his coach: “Is this your fly half?!”

And, after tilting at the Super Rugby finals windmill for the past three years in a row, the Lions are a combination of settled and waiting to unleash some wonderful young talent as they go again.

Spared having to play in Japan in the off season, fly half Elton Jantjies has spent all his free time training, if his Instagram account is anything to go by, while utility back and South Africa Under-20 wunderkind Wandisile Simelane’s early season showings should see him tell his team-mates: “Stick with me and I’ll make you famous.”

Ah, the quiet before the World Cup storm.

. Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

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May 19 2019