Bulls will have sniff of blood

    2012-06-01 11:00
    Cape Town - Rob Houwing, in his South African Super Rugby Week 15 preview, feels the depleted Stormers will do well to stave off a Loftus roasting.

    Super Rugby: Bulls v Stormers key match-ups


    BULLS v STORMERS, Pretoria

    When: Saturday, 19:10
    Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (SA)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Clear, mild, light breeze.

    When I asked Stormers coach Allister Coetzee at a media briefing this week whether successive defeats for the Bulls entering this one made them vulnerable or simply more dangerous, he did not hesitate for a split second in declaring the latter. He is probably right. Not only is there additional urgency for the hosts as a result of those close reverses in New Zealand (where not many overseas teams prosper), but revenge for the Newlands first-round loss will be a motivator -- plus a glance at the forced re-jig to the Stormers starting XV ought to give the Bulls a healthy scent of blood. The Stormers are not averse to the odd triumph at Loftus, but have also taken some gruesome hidings there in this competition; the danger of another does flicker. The Capetonians will require astonishing “gees” to bag this one, I reckon. While particularly mentally resolute for the last two years or so, which gives Jean de Villiers and company a puncher’s chance, the Bulls’ superior current firepower really should tilt things.

    Key head-to-head:
    The not unsurprising loss of chief lineout factor and mauling organiser Andries Bekker for several weeks was seriously ill-timed, considering the conference-leading Stormers’ other casualties of late and the immense challenge facing them in the Bulls’ stronghold. It only increases the onus on impressive young No 4 lock EBEN ETZEBETH to keep producing influential games – he is nursing some wear and tear of his own and similarly on the verge of being overplayed. He will not get any special mercy from direct Bulls rival and established international FLIP VAN DER MERWE, older and wiser (though possibly more impetuous by reputation?) and doubtless harbouring plans to pip the fresh-faced pretender to a Springbok spot in Durban just a week on from this meeting ... 

    Recent history:
    The Bulls have dominated most “modern” meetings in the competition, even if the Stormers still lead 9-7 (1 draw) in victories overall. That said, the Stormers clung on to record a 20-17 triumph over these foes at Newlands just a few weeks ago (Peter Grant’s 77th-minute penalty separated the sides despite the Bulls registering two tries to one) and did win last season’s Loftus clash 23-13 slightly against the odds with a showing of great discipline and composure in enemy territory.

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Player for player, upon careful perusal of Saturday’s lineups, you have to say that a Bulls win seems a fairly clear-cut scenario. The home side looks notably more settled, for one thing: contrast this with the Stormers suddenly requiring undercooked veteran Deon Carstens, for instance, to look hale and hearty on the Highveld in their No 1 jersey! Perhaps the one blessing for the Stormers is that some of their replacements at least offer a potential semblance of freshness to a seemingly tiring team. I suspect it won’t be enough ... Bulls by nine to 12 points?



    15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 CJ Stander, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling

    Substitutes: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Francois Venter

    15. Gio Aplon, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Jean de Villiers (captain), 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Peter Grant, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 8. Jebb Sinclair, 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 6. Siya Kolisi, 5. De Kock Steenkamp, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg, 1. Deon Carstens

    Substitutes: 16. Deon Fourie, 17 Brok Harris, 18. Quinn Roux, 19. Don Armand, 20. Nick Fenton-Wells, 21. Louis Schreuder, 22. Burton Francis

    SA GAME 2

    LIONS v SHARKS, Johannesburg

    When: Saturday, 17:05
    Referee: Garratt Williamson (NZ)
    TV: M-Net, SS1, SHD

    Long-range weather forecast:
    Clear, cool, gentle breeze.

    Memories of the Lions’ glorious 42-16 thumping of Saturday’s derby opponents in the 2011 Currie Cup final have faded rather violently with their unceasing agony in Super Rugby 2012, haven’t they? It may not help that at least half of the Sharks’ personnel returning to Coca-Cola Park for this one are not only in fine form but likely to be highly desirous of revenge for that domestic humbling. The Sharks are certainly on a hot streak (four wins in succession) and probably aspire to a bonus-point win immediately ahead of the Super Rugby break. Even a triumph of the more mundane variety will keep them healthily on a playoffs course. The Lions? Straight off an all-losses overseas tour, it is hard to see them having the physical or mental lustre to record an upset at this juncture, though you just never know in SA clashes ...  

    Key head-to-head:
    The match-up between both sets of props looks at least as appetising as anything else on the park for this particular fixture. Ever-popular Sharks and Springbok loosehead BEAST MTAWARIRA (apart from sometimes saving locks’ lives in the air, of course) grapples former squad-mate PAT CILLIERS, who can probably score big points with apparent admirer Heyneke Meyer if he stands up resolutely. On the other side of the boiler room, gnarly Boks JANNIE DU PLESSIS and the versatile CJ VAN DER LINDE, just cleared of a biting charge, also rub stubble at the set-piece. Van der Linde, operating at loosehead here, so often under-delivers for a man so talented ... might this be an overdue fire-and-brimstone day for the big baldie? 

    Recent history:
    When these teams met in the first-round clash at Mr Price Kings Park on March 10, the Sharks won comfortably enough 32-20 – with four tries plus Pat Lambie pulling clever strings at No 10 -- even if they were hardly in vintage form at the time. In the two conference meetings in 2011, the Sharks cruised 27-3 in Durban, but the teams later shared a 30-30 thriller in Johannesburg. 

    Rob Houwing’s prediction:
    Lions coach John Mitchell has shuffled his starting XV cards a bit in a desperate quest to find a belated winning formula. But it really oughtn’t to come in this one, with the Sharks simply too classy on paper and efficient and slick in current execution of duties. If the Lions throw the ball about with some abandon, they may cross the whitewash once or twice ... But I see the Sharks still cantering to victory by around 14 points.


    15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthonie Volminck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 CJ van der Linde

    Substitutes: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Ruan Combrinck

    15 Patrick Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

    Substitutes: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 Louis Ludik

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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