Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Perhaps we should shelve for
the moment any thoughts of the Vodacom Super Rugby derby between the Bulls and
Stormers next Saturday being billed a battle for “supremacy”.
That just doesn’t seem the most apt expression
after this weekend’s separate matches featuring those protagonists -- instead the
Loftus clash now shapes up as more of a redemption drive, in each instance.
The north-south showdown remains nominally
a top-of-table affair, given that the Stormers head Africa Conference 1 and the
Bulls lie second in it, but on the evidence of their last two matches each,
that makes them sound too deceptively like title-challengers in the competition
Mathematically both remain very much at the
races, yes … but from a performance point of view we have only witnessed rather
painful corrections downward of late.
Both teams have been more cheap plonk than
champagne in this period, with the Stormers badly denting their challenge – and
any confidence in their ability to land the elusive silverware for the first
time – with a home defeat to the Waratahs a fortnight ago and then woeful,
fortuitous follow-up 17-17 draw with the weak Sunwolves in Singapore on
Meanwhile the Bulls undid much of the
decent work in their first Australian tour match, when they had thrashed the
Western Force, with clear-cut defeats to each of the Brumbies (23-6) and now
also to the Waratahs themselves (31-8) to earn zero log points from a possible
That quartet of results does desperately
little to suggest either Pretoria – where it has previously resided three times
-- or Cape Town is going to be a prospective home for the trophy in 2016.
By Saturday night, too, the Lions had
roared back from their Hurricanes fiasco with a remarkably polished and
composed 43-5 dismantling of the Blues despite grim conditions in Johannesburg
to suddenly become the South African team with the most points overall (32)
despite being in a different conference to the other two.
More of a howler, really, than the Bulls
conceding a full-house win to the ‘Tahs in Sydney was the shocker in Singapore
shortly afterwards, where a clumsy, lumbering and outrageously over-confident Stormers
outfit had to rely on a muscular surge over the tryline right on the hooter
from substitute tighthead prop Vincent Koch just to share the spoils with the
While a draw is always better than a defeat,
this remained, by my book, as sickly a Stormers showing as I have witnessed in
When they necessarily review this game - I’d
subject the full squad to it about half a dozen times in full, I reckon - they
will only see a video nasty.
It is one thing to start a game slowly and
immediately to exhibit poor body language and a lack of urgency; more disturbing
was that the Stormers never really picked up their intensity or remedied their
many failings for most of the remainder of the contest.
Blame rookie Kiwi referee Paul Williams or
the tropical humidity all you like … the fact remained that Robbie Fleck’s
charges could only register two tries against a team even their limited
compatriots the Cheetahs had put 92 points on a few weeks ago, and both were of
the crude, rumbling kind.
That said so much about the dreadful
paucity of skills and X-factor evident from the Stormers, supposedly a side
trying to consciously evolve in that very area.
Their collective passing game continues to
look well short of even respectable; so many of their offloads seem to be of
the pot-luck, bobbling, airy-fairy kind with synergy and cohesion in short
If there were going to be exceptions from
the starting line-up to the malaise and rank mediocrity, then perhaps you could
only single out the ever-willing and alert Cheslin Kolbe in the backline, and
Pieter-Steph du Toit for being head and shoulders the most productive and
As disillusioned former Stormers and
Springbok wing favourite Breyton Paulse said in the SuperSport studio
afterwards, if the franchise played as poorly as they did in Singapore against
a crack New Zealand team in the knockout phase, they would be brushed aside by
around 30 points.
To add to their woes, loosehead prop JC
Janse van Rensburg limped off prematurely with a knee injury, although next
week’s opponents the Bulls may just be struggling in the tighthead department
where the man Van Rensburg would directly pack down against at Loftus if
selected, Marcel van der Merwe, also left the Sydney pitch clutching his ribs
gingerly after a solid personal shift.
The Bulls were reasonable value in the
first half against the Waratahs, only trailing 7-3 at the break and botching
one glorious try-scoring opportunity after a lethal break by fullback SP
Marais, but receded gradually in the second as they struggled for favourable field
Still, their spirits will have been lifted
later by the unexpected Stormers result, which saw them bank only two log
points against the Sunwolves rather than the widely-tipped five - it leaves
the Capetonians (31) three points clear of the Bulls (28) after 10 games each.
Win the derby and the Bulls will be right
back in the conference hunt, although defeat would tilt momentum very heavy
back in favour of the Stormers, who won the first-round meeting 33-9 at
Newlands at the start of the season.
weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):
Friday, May 20
Crusaders v Waratahs, 09:35
Saturday, May 21
Reds v Sunwolves, 07:05
Chiefs v Rebels, 09:35
Force v Blues,
Lions v Jaguares, 15:00
Sharks v Kings, 17:10
Bulls v Stormers, 19:20
Byes: Cheetahs, Brumbies, Highlanders, Hurricanes
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing