Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Fiery Friday in Hamilton and Super Saturday in
Durban ... that is the tantalising scenario for Week 14 of the Super Rugby
competition.GALLERY: Past weekend in pictures
These cities stage massively influential matches this
weekend, in terms of the race to finish top overall, as first the Chiefs
entertain the Bulls and then the spotlight shifts back to South Africa itself
for the coastal derby a day later between the Sharks and Stormers at Mr Price
You’d have to draw straws, frankly, to try to determine
which fixture is the more important or appealing.
And if you were the log-leading Stormers or one of their
supporters, for instance, you would face the additional dilemma of deciding
what result might be better in the earlier showdown at Waikato Stadium.
A Bulls victory there would be useful for the Cape franchise
in terms of taking off some of the Chiefs’ heat on the overall ladder – the New
Zealanders are level on points with the Stormers and second only on the grounds
of fewer wins – whereas the Chiefs winning would potentially make the task of
topping the SA conference for the playoffs phase that little bit easier for
Jean de Villiers and company.
The Stormers currently hold a two-point edge over great
domestic rivals the Bulls, whom they meet in an unenviable second successive
away derby a week on from Saturday’s visit to the Shark Tank.
Maybe the “dream” Hamilton result on Friday, from a Stormers
point of view, is a low-scoring draw, with both sides earning just two points
each for their troubles – an unlikely prospect as there hasn’t been one
stalemate yet this season despite some very close score-lines.
As for the Bulls, whatever the outcome in their final
overseas match against the Chiefs, they will almost certainly be quietly
rooting for a Sharks triumph in Durban, as the in-form host side there remains
in sixth place overall and still six points behind the men from Loftus as
That said, another Sharks win – it would be their fourth on
the trot in what has been a commendable resurgence – coupled with a second tour
defeat in succession for the Bulls, would draw John Plumtree’s charges right
into what would suddenly become a genuine three-way tussle for conference
The Sharks, it mustn’t be forgotten, may have played one
more match than each of the Stormers and Bulls, but they are the only ones of
the trio still to have a bye up their sleeve ... and the automatic four points
that will bring.
Just like the Stormers, the Bulls are getting ominously low
on fit loose forwards, and tour fatigue may be a factor as they tackle the
Chiefs – by contrast, fresh off a bye – in the wake of the loss to the
Highlanders in Dunedin where they found some mojo a bit too late.
At least they have a much better recent record against these
opponents than they do against mini-hoodoo side the Highlanders: the Bulls have
won the last four tussles against the Chiefs, including one in the enemy
stronghold and the one-sided Loftus final of 2009 (61-17).
Meanwhile there will be a certain clash of styles, if you
like, when the Sharks do battle with the Stormers – the former are having
little difficulty crossing the whitewash, as reflected in bonus-point victories
from their last two matches, whilst the latter keep grinding out tense wins
without ever quite managing to run riot on the scoreboard.
The Stormers’ fine defence and muscularity in contact generally
remain key strings to their bow, and if the Sharks are in undoubted good form
with three wins on the trot, the Capetonians’ acting captain De Villiers was
quick to remind on Saturday night that they are on a remorseless victory habit
too – they have come out tops four times in succession since losing to the
Crusaders in Christchurch back in mid-April.
These are the
remaining fixtures for the four sides involved in this weekend’s two “main
Stormers: Sharks (a),
Bulls (a), Lions (h), Cheetahs (a), Rebels (h)
(h), Blues (a), Highlanders (a), Crusaders (h), Hurricanes (a)
(a), Stormers (h), Cheetahs (h), Sharks (a), Lions (h)
(h), Lions (a), bye, Bulls (h), Cheetahs (h).
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