It’s action stations now with breathing space pretty much all used up as the Vodacom Super Rugby competition kicks into gear this weekend with the Cell C Sharks traveling to Emirates Airline Park to take on the Lions in their opening match of the competition.
Returning to the province where he played most of his rugby (he also turned out for Western Province during the latter stage of his career) as well as playing the head coach role, notably in the 2007 season when the Cell C Shark hosted the Vodacom Super 14 final, for Dick Muir this is an exciting time.
“It’s been very interesting and exciting to see the talent that’s available and to work with a different coaching group is also stimulating,” he explains. “We’ve had great preparation for Vodacom Super Rugby and everyone is eager to get going; we’re looking forward to the opening game.
“We might be a bit short on the experience side, but as far as enthusiasm goes, there’s an abundance there.”
After two warm-up matches, the coaches will have their work cut out for them, having seen pretty much the entire squad in action, and every players looking to cement a starting position.
“It’s nice to have the competition for places, there is competition in every position. It’s really hard luck for the guys who don’t get selected.”
In the midfield, there exists one such conundrum for the coaches, with the likes of Andre Esterhuizen returning from Japan but not having played a role in the Cell C Sharks pre-season, while someone like Marius Louw has excelled.
“Andre has played a lot overseas, he had quite a lot of rugby in Japan and we felt it would be better not to use him in the second match against Racing, but to be rested and ready for this match, so he is available for selection in this opening match.”
A new sight at fullback is the emergence of Lwazi Mvovo in the number 15 jersey. “He and Garth April at fullback present us with an interesting choice, but Lwazi has come back, he’s very good on the high ball and he’s been working hard on his kicking game. The balance is really important amongst the back three, I think the Lions will look to target us from a kicking perspective.”
They may target new signing on the wing Makazola Mapimpi, but they may well rue that decision. “I’ve been blown away by what he offers on the field,” Muir admits. “He’s just incredibly quick, his work rate and communication on the field have all been outstanding; he’s been great. He scored something like 28 tries last year and he’s already scored a few for us. If it wasn’t for the whistle, he would probably have scored a few more.”
Saturday’s 5pm clash is against a Lions’ side that boasts a new head coach following the departure of Johan Ackermann, although there will be plenty of continuity with their assistant coach Swys de Bruin moving into the lead role. They have placed great emphasis on playing attacking rugby over the last few years, something that has yielded good results. Muir expects the competition between the respective backlines to be fierce.
“It will be much of a muchness as far as backline strengths go, but overall we don’t know where they are at in their campaign as far as their warm-up games go. We’ve had a few already and it all comes down to what happens on Saturday. It’s going to be a great challenge.
“The guys have been itching to play and with training being so hard, in the heat and humidity, hopefully with the lack of humidity, the ball won’t be slippery in Joburg. We’re looking forward to playing in those drier conditions.”
As far as tournament readiness goes, Muir is philosophical about it.
“You always feel that if you had more time you could have done a little bit more, but I think from a conditioning perspective the guys have done well. From a skills perspective they’ve put in the hard work and it’s now getting the balance right on the field.
“You can get overly excited and end up playing too much rugby in your own half, but the guys are excited to get the competition going.”