Stormers v Bulls – plenty at stake

Thumbnail

Everything is on the line, from top spot in the South African conference, a top three berth on the combined log, bragging rights and, somewhere in the subconscious, a fight for places in the Springbok World Cup squad later this year.

Add to that another chapter in the famed north versus south derby and the element of seeking revenge – the Bulls conceded a loss to the Stormers at their hallowed Loftus Versfeld earlier in the season – and all is set for an epic battle to the death.

The Bulls lead the South African conference, but are a mere two points ahead of the Stormers, who have 26 points. Both sides are coming off confidence-boosting wins that have strengthened their cause as contenders for play-off berths.

This clash is season-defining for both sides as the Stormers look to kick on after an indifferent tour of New Zealand and Australia, where they won two of their four games. They are facing a handful of games at home to ensure their safe passage to the play-offs.

The Bulls, on the other hand, desperately need victory over the Stormers to affirm their belief that they can win away from home as they face a tricky tour abroad in two weeks.

Set aside for now the thought of what victory will mean in bragging rights for both sets of fans and focus on what it takes to win such high-pressured games.

Both sides are evenly balanced, with a healthy spread of Springboks, and although playing as a unit is likely to be the blueprint for victory, it is the battle of the forwards that could go a long way in determining who the ultimate victors are.

The Stormers won the battle of the scrums in Pretoria in February. Their charged-up scrum was well marshalled by props Vincent Koch and Steven Kitshoff and hooker Scarra Ntubeni.

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has made a change in that front row, beefing it up with Bok tighthead prop Frans Malherbe replacing Koch, and former Bulls hooker Bongi Mbonambi replacing Ntubeni.

It is Coetzee’s hope that Ntubeni and Koch will come on later in the game to further drive their dominance in the scrums and kill off any chance the Bulls may want in dominating the set piece in the later stages of the game.

However, the Bulls have taken significant steps forward since that day in February, when they were shunted into submission, with Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane proving to be their go-to-man as a loosehead and a tighthead.

While Nyakane’s stature has grown tenfold this season, since his move to the Bulls from the Cheetahs and in his surprise move from loosehead to tighthead, the rest of his front row teammates have also found their footing in dominating opposing scrums.

The Bulls will rely on the experience of Springboks props Marcel van der Merwe and Dean Greyling and hooker Adriaan Strauss to give them the initial grunt before calling on Nyakane and Morne Mellett to finish off the job.

In the line-outs, there will be much focus on how Stormers and Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth will handle himself, especially in jumping for the ball. The same will apply to his Bulls counterpart, Flip van der Merwe, as both men are also battling for that coveted Bok No4 jersey.

The line-out is usually a sound platform from which both teams have employed the rolling maul with aplomb this season. Whichever of the two second rows gains ascendency at the set piece, it will hand their team a tallying weapon in the game.

There will be an intriguing duel between the sets of loose forwards, with plenty of decorated Springboks fighting for dominance and prominence on the gain line, tackle count, and ability to win and retain possession at the ruck.

The Stormers have established hard men of the game in captain Duane Vermeulen, veteran Schalk Burger and the evergreen Siya Kolisi, while the Bulls will look to thrive on the youthful exuberance of Jacques du Plessis, the coming to form of Pierre Spies and the experience of Deon Stegmann. Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has no doubt that the game will be won and lost in the battle of the forwards and that it will require an all-round performance for his team to walk away with the spoils.

“I think it is more with what happened with us. We weren’t up to it that day,” Ludeke said. “We are a different side from then. We have more of an all-round game. That is what we will need to play and be successful.”

LINE-UPS

Stormers: Cheslin Kolbe, Johnny Kotze, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Pat Howard, Demetri Catrakilis, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen (capt), Siya Kolisi, Schalk Burger, Ruan Botha, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff

Replacements: Scarra Ntubeni, Oli Kebble, Vincent Koch, Jean Kleyn, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Kurt Coleman, Huw Jones

Bulls: Jesse Kriel, Francois Hougaard, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Handré Pollard, Piet van Zyl, Pierre Spies (capt), Jacques du Plessis, Deon Stegmann, Grant Hattingh, Flip van der Merwe, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss, Dean Greyling

Replacements: Callie Visagie, Morné Mellett, Trevor Nyakane, Arno Botha, Lappies Labuschagne, Akona Ndungane, Tian Schoeman, Jurgen Visser

Referee: Jaco Peyper

Assistants: Jason Jaftha, Francois Pretorius

TMO: Shaun Veldsman

TV: SS1 - Saturday Star

Original source: Stormers v Bulls - plenty at stake

by