Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Whilst it could be fatal for them to suddenly
believe they have an easy task on their hands, the Bulls have a wonderful
opportunity to cash in on the backline chaos currently being experienced by
Super Rugby champions the Reds.
These teams meet at Loftus on Saturday (17:05), in a
keenly-awaited match-up between the 2011 winners and the hosts, who earned the
title in both of the two years before that.
Tuesday’s news that ace left wing Digby Ioane has been
suspended for five weeks for a dangerous tackle on the Sharks’ Marcell Coetzee
last weekend comes at the worst possible time for the Queenslanders, who are
under pressure to grab a win from their South African leg after frittering away
a 17-0 lead to lose 27-22 in Durban.
It leaves a team who pride themselves in their ball-in-hand
fluidity at sixes and sevens behind the scrum, where they are currently left
for the Pretoria clash with only inspirational scrumhalf Will Genia of the trio
of “X-factor specialists” who masterminded their maiden trophy success last
year – slippery flyhalf Quade Cooper is a long-term casualty recovering from a
cruciate ligament injury, and Ioane’s suspension adds to the woe.
In addition, capable No 10 contenders for Loftus in Ben
Lucas and Mike Harris have both flown home after suffering hamstring injuries
in the rain-lashed defeat to the Sharks.
Wallabies flyer Ioane had just begun to rediscover his best
form in the new season against John Plumtree’s charges: Jim Tucker of The
Courier-Mail in Brisbane rightly noted that “until that point (the tip-tackle
on Coetzee) Ioane had played his best and most involved spell of the season”.
Some consolation for
the Reds is that Genia looked pretty close to lethal every time he touched the
ball in Durban, and his personal battle with Springbok livewire Francois
Hougaard (back after his own short ban for a dangerous tackle of his own) could
be a game-swayer on Saturday.
But with the Bulls showing an encouragingly clean bill of
health after their bye weekend, it would seem they have a golden opportunity to
exploit the Reds’ unenviable staffing disorder and claim their first win over
these opponents in three clashes.
They did win the last Highveld meeting, 33-20 in 2009 when
the Bulls went on to claim the trophy.
But since then the Reds have won twice on the trot in
Brisbane: 19-12 in 2010 and 39-30 last season.
The last-named game was deceptive in that the Reds would
have ensured more daylight had Cooper’s place-kicking matched the
near-customary excellence of Morne Steyn that day – the home team ran in six
tries to three.
But twinkle-toed Cooper was hugely influential in all other
facets, so his absence this time would have come as a relief to the Bulls even
before latest developments surrounding Ioane.
You would imagine
that even if Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is reluctant to say so, he will know deep
down that the Reds have lost a fair bit of their “sting” with Ioane and others
now joining Cooper on the sidelines ...
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