Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The SA conference-opening Super Rugby derby at Loftus on Friday night will pit a generally settled Bulls combination against Stormers opponents who are blooding some new faces in key positions.
Will that be decisive ... either way?
You could argue that the Bulls’ familiarity with each other, for the most part, will be beneficial to them and a possible game-swayer, although an opposite case might be that the home side aren’t exactly unpredictable - you pretty much know what to expect in terms of core personnel, physical challenges and aerial bombardment when you go to Pretoria.
Then as far as the Stormers are concerned, they will feature several potentially exciting infusions to their 2013 mix as they try to make the hotly-desired step up from two-time conference winners to champions of the overall competition, something the Bulls have three-time knowledge of.
But as they introduce Lions loan acquisitions Jaco Taute and Elton Jantjies
at the influential spots of fullback and flyhalf respectively, the Super Rugby-uncapped Damian de Allende at inside centre, Nic Groom ahead of the infinitely more seasoned Dewaldt Duvenage
at No 9, and another newcomer from upcountry in Springbok Pat Cilliers to anchor the scrum at tighthead, the thought will strike some people that it may take them a while to “click”.
Time is not on their side in that respect, because the Stormers’ three-match start - Bulls and Sharks away, followed by 2012 champions the Chiefs at home - is about as formidable as it gets so they have no choice but to find each other fast.
On the plus side, there is also a good case for suspecting that certain of their new recruits will provide some mystery ingredients and added X-factor, an attribute that was considered to have been in short supply at times and possibly hamstrung their quest to finally go all the way to the overall silverware last season.
Coach Allister Coetzee
, despite knowing that his charges are again highly-touted this year and arguably favourites at Loftus whether they like it or not, is wary of what he called this week the “settled Bulls squad”.
His Highveld counterpart, Frans Ludeke
, has also not been shy to trumpet the familiarity in the Bulls camp.
“We do have an experienced core of players this year and it is something that will hopefully benefit us,” he said as he unveiled his first Super Rugby match-day 22 of the campaign.
Ludeke’s theory gathers further credibility when you examine the respective line-ups for the last time these foes met in Super Rugby at Loftus: the Bulls will feature no fewer than 12 of the same starters on this occasion, whilst the Stormers have only six “survivors” in the XV.
Mind you, the 2012 meeting at the venue saw the visitors somehow steal a 19-14 triumph, courtesy of a fine, 72nd-minute breakout try by Bryan Habana
after crucial set-up work from Siya Kolisi
, despite the Bulls dominating ball and territory to so marked an extent that they really should not have botched it.
The Bulls have such a routine template that at this week’s main Stormers media briefing, Coetzee actually ran through, for the assembled scribes, the bulk of what he expected would be the enemy starting XV.
Interestingly, the only area where he erred was the Bulls loose trio - although even some fans of the Pretoria-based side may well have expected the promising young Arno Botha to get a start instead of Deon Stegmann.
Coetzee had anticipated the Bulls going with Botha, Dewald Potgieter
and captain Pierre Spies
, but instead the explosive Botha starts Friday from the confines of the bench with the 60-cap specialist open-sider Stegmann preferred.
There is always some risk involved in picking the occasional Springbok at No 6, because like so many fetchers he operates very close to the borders of the law and has a reputation for heavy penalty concession and also being yellow-carded.
But his work-rate and commitment can seldom be faulted, and Ludeke may see him as a handy point of difference among the respective loose trios - he will be the only genuinely specialist open-sider among them, although in hooker Deon Fourie the Stormers have a natural pilferer and scavenger anyway.
As with the visitors’ De Allende at No 12, the Bulls award a Super Rugby debut to Boksburg-born loosehead prop Morné Mellett, in the absence of Dean Greyling.
They have a second player pulling on the famous blue jersey for the first time, but the slippery utility back Lionel Mapoe does boast 28 prior caps in the competition for the Lions and Cheetahs.Teams:Bulls:
15 Zane Kirchner
, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 JJ Engelbrecht
, 12 Wynand Olivier
, 11 Bjorn Basson
, 10 Mornè Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard
, 8 Pierre Spies
(captain), 7 Dewald Potgieter
, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger
, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle
, 1 Mornè Mellett
Substitutes: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak
, 21 Louis Fouchè, 22 Francois VenterStormers:
15. Jaco Taute, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Bryan Habana
, 10. Elton Jantjies
, 9. Nic Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen
, 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 6. Siya Kolisi
, 5. Andries Bekker
, 4. De Kock Steenkamp, 3. Pat Cilliers, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Frans Malherbe, 18. Don Armand, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Dewaldt Duvenage
, 21. Gerhard van den Heever, 22. Joe Pietersen
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