The grandeur of the greatest rivalry in South African rugby will be on show when the Stormers and Bulls collide in the biggest North/South derby in recent history in Cape Town on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
With both teams pushing hard for a place in the top four and in
The timing of the rescheduled United Rugby Championship Round 13 fixture could not be more perfect given the arch-rivals’ form and positions on both the overall log and in the South African Shield.
On 43, just one point separates the sixth-placed Capetonians from the seventh-placed men from Pretoria at the top of the local conference, with the eighth-placed Sharks hot on their heels with 41 points.
The Durbanites will have their work cut out for them when they host the red-hot Lions, while Cardiff and Scarlets square off in an all-Welsh affair for the second week in a row.
Stormers v Bulls
Saturday, 9 April – 14:00
The blockbuster at Cape Town Stadium has South African rugby lovers buzzing and has all the makings of a classic.
It’s a perfect storm, a high-stakes showdown that should attract the biggest local crowd in the pandemic era. Both teams have been imperious of late, the hosts winning four on the trot and the visitors going one better with five straight victories to rocket up the ladder.
Look past the table to the tactics and it becomes even more tantalising. It’s a mirror match, a pick ‘em, with both teams playing total rugby. Two trends, though, have emerged, however, even they theoretically cancel each other out. The Stormers are fast starters, while the Bulls finish strong.
The opposite was true in their last head-to-head battle at Loftus, where the Capetonians staged a spirited comeback to snatch a 30-26 win in January. It shows you how drastically things can change in the world of rugby. Both coaches will emphasise the need for an 80-minute performance come Saturday.
Where the Stormers should have the advantage is at scrum time. The Bulls have stood firm in recent weeks, but the Stormers will look to squeeze every bit of ascendency they can out upfront.
Both sides’ lineouts have generally functioned well. However, the Stormers’ hookers have been guilty of more than their fair share of misfires, so look for the Bulls to pile on the pressure here.
The backlines are equally dangerous and should go scorched earth. If anything, the hosts’ knives are a little sharper, which has seen them make the most line breaks in the league (103 – the Bulls are sixth with 79).
Add in home ground advantage and the Stormers should eke out a hugely significant win.
Sharks v Lions
Saturday, 9 April – 16:05
The pressure in the Cape Town cauldron will transfer squarely onto the Sharks. On paper, a home game for a team in the playoff hunt against one four places below them in 12th should be a gift this close to the quarterfinals.
The problem is that the lowly team have rediscovered their roar and won four in a row, while the fancied hosts haven’t played to their potential just yet.
Fortunately for them, their 51-3 destruction of the Dragons last week was a massive leap in the right direction. Their finishing still needs work, but their motor ran much smoother.
The game-changer, though, was Curwin Bosch’s return to form following a few shockers. He looked like the star of old – confident and flawless in his execution, from a perfect 7/7 off the tee to a world-class 50:22. He even produced a slick late break and chip and re-gather that should’ve resulted in a try.
The flyhalf conundrum was the root of all the Sharks’ problems and with Bosch having his confidence back, things will fall into place and their overall quality should see the Durbanites do the double over the Lions, having beaten them 47-37 at Ellis Park in January.
Cardiff v Scarlets
Saturday, 9 April – 16:10
The Welsh regions run it back with the Scarlets high on confidence after what transpired last weekend. The Llanelli side conquered Cardiff 35-20 despite playing almost the entire second half with 14 men after eighthman Sione Kalamafoni saw red for a high tackle on Gwilym Bradley.
The ease with which they stayed in control and didn’t give Cardiff a sniff took them to the top of the Welsh Shield, a position of power they’ll strengthen when it’s 15 against 15 on Saturday.
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