Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The follow-up Super Rugby derby between the
Bulls and Stormers at Loftus on June 2 looms ever more greatly now as a date
from hell for new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
These two franchises continue to be the pace-setters in the
SA conference, despite the Bulls’ desperately narrow loss to their southern
rivals at Newlands on Saturday.
The match was played with all the intensity and passion of a
Test -- and that very fact may well have secretly worried Meyer the most as he
soaked it in, while keeping a beady eye on his maiden task over three
consecutive Saturdays as Bok series mastermind against England from June 9.
Certainly revenge will be firmly on the minds of the Bulls
team and supporters after running the ongoing leaders in the conference – and
overall – so close on enemy terrain.
There seems absolutely no chance, if the prospect ever feasibly
existed anyway, of either team wishing to give an inch in selection or
“attitude” terms for the crunch encounter in Pretoria on the first Saturday in June.
Both teams have shown enough over the first six weeks of the
2012 competition to suggest that they will be strong play-offs contenders, but the
traditional derby factor itself will ensure that they go at each other with
guns blazing all over again even if one or both unexpectedly drops off the
title-challenging radar in the interim.
Factor in the Stormers playing the Sharks away in another
bruising all-SA duel just a week ahead of the Loftus rematch, and Bok
contenders from the Cape, in particular, could be said to be virtually playing
five Tests in as many weeks without a break if they crack the nod for all three
showdowns with England.
The Test window period has already been controversial anyway,
given that it didn’t include a break weekend in its lead-up despite coming
after as many as 15 weeks of Super Rugby bump and grind.
For all the perfect-world talk of desired “co-operation”
between the Bok management and the various Super Rugby coaches, it remains
desperately hard to envisage people like Allister Coetzee, Frans Ludeke or John
Plumtree being either willing or able to rest any of their brightest stars in
the week or two preceding the England visit (featuring respective Tests in
Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth).
Perhaps Meyer’s best hope – and it speaks for itself that he
will want to open his Bok account in impressive fashion – is that the Boks do
enough to get ahead 2-0 in the Test series and then he could play some slightly
peripheral cards in a PE dead-rubber affair: certain of his troops are likely
to be close to dead on their feet by then.
Whilst squad depth is increasingly going to be tested, and
reserve options deployed, in this longest-ever Super Rugby season, thus far few
teams across the three SANZAR zones have been inclined to “sit out” key
customers to any noticeable degree.
The Sharks, for instance, know the priceless value of having
ever-robust and dynamic Bismarck du Plessis on the park as much as possible;
ditto the Bulls for someone like Morne Steyn or the Stormers for an Andries
Meyer has rightly spoken of his insistence on pride in the
Bok jersey being an automatic spur, but even he will know deep down that he is
going to be preparing some knackered troops, to a good extent, for battle
He may have to box clever in selection terms, even as he
contemplates the strong logic in wanting to choose the best possible names for
These are the Super
Rugby fixtures (home teams first) for all South African sides in the fortnight
immediately ahead of the England Tests:
Friday May 25: Chiefs v Bulls
Saturday May 26: Force v Lions, Cheetahs v Waratahs, Sharks
Saturday June 2: Lions v Sharks, Bulls v Stormers (bye: Cheetahs)
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