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    Stormers virus now hits Bulls

    2012-05-07 07:33

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Can the Bulls filter in some new faces as seamlessly as great rivals the Stormers have managed to in the past few weeks?

    GALLERY: Past weekend in pictures

    It is an issue that could have a bearing on their success rate for the remainder of their travels abroad, which are about to get a whole lot harder.

    These two South African teams continue to ride high on both the overall Super Rugby table and the domestic conference, but suddenly – entering week 12 of the punishing competition -- the disruption bogey is starting to plague the Bulls to almost the extent it has affected the Cape side.

    Currently preparing for their second of four Australasian tour fixtures against the Waratahs in Sydney on Friday after an unexpectedly rollercoaster win against the Rebels, the men from Pretoria had been fielding generally blissfully settled starting combos ... until now.

    Injuries and other circumstances mean that at least three enforced changes will almost certainly be required to the Bulls XV for the challenge of a ‘Tahs team no doubt smarting from a derby thumping at the hands of Jake White’s buoyant Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday.

    As reported on Sunday, staple 2012 presences in the Nos 1, 7 and 12 jerseys – respectively Dean Greyling, Jacques Potgieter and Wynand Olivier – will not be available at Sydney Football Stadium, though Springbok inside centre Olivier is considered a long-shot prospect to recover in time from a rib problem.

    Big, ball-carrying loosehead prop Greyling is returning to South Africa briefly for the birth of his first child, while uncompromising blindside flank Potgieter becomes one of the first Bulls players to suffer a similar fate to a Schalk Burger or Duane Vermeulen down south – many weeks on the sidelines after his kneecap mishap in Melbourne.

    He will probably only return after the three-week recess in June for Test activity.

    On the “fringe” front, meanwhile, reserve prop Frik Kirsten has suffered a hand fracture that will see him out of action for some six weeks, putting further strain on the Bulls’ broader squad resources.

    Potgieter’s injury is especially inconvenient when you consider that Bok-capped namesake Dewald has had a truly jinxed season thus far and is not ready yet for a return to the fray – he would have shaped up as a near-perfect direct replacement.

    On the brighter side, fetcher Deon Stegmann finally has the green light after a lingering hamstring injury so he may be whisked straight into the run-on team on Friday, potentially freeing up CJ Stander, who has been admirable in the slightly unfamiliar role of open-sider, to be even more effective on the other side of the scrum.

    There are also still the claims of Arno Botha to consider: with apologies for dwelling on Stormers comparisons this year, he is showing very similar energy and dynamism to Nizaam Carr in bursts off the bench.

    Given a first start against the Force in Perth two weekends ago, Carr excelled in the comfortable Stormers victory – is Nylstroom High product Botha, 20, just about ready to do the same thing for the Bulls if granted the opportunity?

    Carr may have recently beaten Botha to his 21st birthday, but both were representatives of the SA under-20 squad at the 2011 IRB Junior World Championship and symbols of South Africa’s never-ending reputation as a “loosie factory”.

    The likelihood that Olivier, who only a few days ago was talked up by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer for his efforts this season, will miss the assignment against the Waratahs is probably more of a concern to the Bulls’ brains trust at this stage.

    After all, they are trying to find solutions to their leaky-defence problem of late and, in his capacity as inside centre, the blond midfielder is an essential “organiser” in the tackling department and a relative veteran who knows their intended systems well.

    His experience has been important alongside JJ Engelbrecht, who is very much learning the ropes at No 13 after being converted recently from wing – the latter, if he stays there in Sydney, probably has to get acquainted quickly to a new partner in Francois Venter or former Newlands-based team-mate Johann Sadie.

    On the broader South African front, week 11 was a productive one in log-points terms for all three realistic local candidates for the six-team playoffs phase.

    The Stormers gratefully banked their four bye-weekend points, whilst both the Bulls and Sharks earned wins against overseas opponents despite plenty of imperfections in both teams’ performances.

    Perhaps one should be cautious in hyping up a team with a “win, lose, win, lose” habit like the Sharks have, but the truth is that the Durbanites are right back in the hunt to crack the finals series nod.

    Beating the useful Highlanders on Saturday was a bit of an eight-pointer for Keegan Daniel and company, in some senses, because they knocked over the very team now placed just one slot ahead of them in sixth, and only three points superior.

    The injury-hit side from Otago now take the long haul home to entertain the Hurricanes in a tricky New Zealand derby this weekend, while the Sharks – revelling in the grunt Tendai Mtawarira has helped restore to their scrum -- really should be fancied to beat the modest Force at Mr Price Kings Park.

    So they could vault into a playoff spot far quicker than some people might have anticipated, never mind that they strangely continue to mix the classy with the rank clumsy ...

    This week’s fixtures (all times SA):

    Friday: Blues v Lions, Auckland 09:35; Waratahs v Bulls, Sydney 11:40. Saturday: Highlanders v Hurricanes, Dunedin 09:35; Rebels v Crusaders, Melbourne 11:40; Sharks v Force, Durban 17:05; Stormers v Cheetahs, Cape Town 19:10. Sunday: Reds v Chiefs, Brisbane 08:10. Bye: Brumbies.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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