Stormers-Bulls: 3 key duels

    2013-07-12 19:08

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Favours? They’re always in notably short supply when South African teams go head to head either in Super Rugby or the Currie Cup.

    So expect this utterly worthy tradition to remain undisturbed when the Stormers host the Bulls in the final match of ordinary season in the first-named competition on Saturday (19:10).

    Of course there is so much more at stake for the visitors, seeking to guarantee top spot overall and thus the massive comfort of a home showpiece should they go all the way in the looming finals series.

    It is also just possible that they won’t even have to go full tilt at Newlands, should the similarly high-flying Chiefs and Brumbies botch their own last “league” games earlier in the day.

    But north-south derby passion is a powerful device under any circumstances in this country, so a likely swollen turnout on Saturday night – lured also by the SA swansong for dual regional favourite Bryan Habana -- ought not to witness a tedious, lame fixture.

    Here are three tasty individual match-ups that could hold the key to the outcome ...

    1 Eben Etzebeth (Stormers) v Flip van der Merwe (Bulls)

    This was the Springboks’ horses-for-courses lock alliance in the last Test match, that impressive disposal of cynical Samoa, and now these “ysters”, if I may resort to Afrikaans for a second, go nose to nose at domestic level. Although Van der Merwe unusually was handed the No 5 chore against the Pacific Islanders, he came through the slight positional re-arrangement fairly handsomely ... but now he wears his more favoured No 4 once more, putting him in direct opposition to Etzebeth, surely one of the top five tight forwards on the planet for long-term potential at international level. No quarter will be asked or given in the physical exchanges – I tip Etzebeth for a lineout edge – and the cheekier among us may be tempted to wonder which man’s fuse blows first and a “take 10 minutes out” order gets issued ...

     2 Juan de Jongh (Stormers) v JJ Engelbrecht (Bulls)

    It has been a frustrating, injury-curtailed season so far for De Jongh, who was crusty partner Jean de Villiers’ Springbok midfield ally at the end of the 2012 season in Europe. Inevitably he has lost some ground this year ... and much of it to the very man he faces at outside centre in this match, the Bulls’ lanky, explosive Engelbrecht. Bok coach Heyneke Meyer ruffled some feathers in his maiden season last year when he involved Engelbrecht (a former Newlands-based player, remember) in early squads, but in 2013 the former Maties student has more than justified that nod of confidence with some truly dynamic Test matches. Hot-stepping De Jongh is a tenacious tackler, for his limited size, and will need to be at his best in that department if he is to thwart his rival’s pace and strength out of the blocks.

    3 Gary van Aswegen (Stormers) v Morne Steyn (Bulls)

    On paper this may look a bit of a no-contest, with seasoned Springbok Steyn, playing with welcome chutzpah for both “club” and country in 2013, clearly the more likely man to stamp his mark on the No 10 slot on Saturday night. Who knows, if it is close – a pretty good bet – his renowned composure off the tee could sway the contest the visitors’ way deep in the final quarter. But counterpart Van Aswegen has a golden opportunity in this fixture to place some timely ticks against his name: the injury-prone 23-year-old (coincidentally Pretoria-born) has under-rated distributive skills but is yet to prove he can really boss a game to an all-embracing degree at a high level. Rumours swirl, after all, around several pivots in the Newlands pecking order, with erratic Bok Elton Jantjies instructively only on the bench for this match and perhaps not to be engaged long-term, Peter Grant possibly still in the 2014 Super Rugby picture, and talk of a homecoming of sorts for Demetri Catrakilis. If Van Aswegen wants to glow, that time is now ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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