Bulls v Stormers: Fragile derby looms

    2016-05-14 22:25

    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 this year.

    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 Saturday.

    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 10.

    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 Japanese team.

    While a draw is always better than a defeat, this remained, by my book, as sickly a Stormers showing as I have witnessed in several seasons.

    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 supply.

    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 commanding forward.

    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 position.

    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.

    Next 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, 11:45

    Lions v Jaguares, 15:00

    Sharks v Kings, 17:10

    Bulls v Stormers, 19:20

    Byes: Cheetahs, Brumbies, Highlanders, Hurricanes

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    Friday, 29 March 2019
    • Hurricanes v Crusaders, Westpac Stadium 08:35
    • Waratahs v Sunwolves, McDonald Jones Stadium 10:45
    Saturday, 30 March 2019
    • Blues v Stormers, Eden Park 08:35
    • Reds v Rebels, Suncorp Stadium 10:45
    • Sharks v Bulls, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 15:05
    • Jaguares v Chiefs, Estadio Jose Amalfitani 23:40
    Friday, 05 April 2019
    • Highlanders v Hurricanes, Forsyth Barr Stadium 08:35
    • Reds v Stormers, Suncorp Stadium 11:00
    • Lions v Sharks, Emirates Airline Park 19:10


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