Like all good coaches, Jake White does not like to elevate certain pool games to greater importance than others, but there has been an obvious lifting of the ante this week as the Bulls have prepared for the arrival of their arch-enemies, the Stormers, for their Super Rugby Unlocked match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The importance of the match – between two of the favourites for the title; the top-of-the-log Bulls against the unbeaten Stormers – has been shown by White providing his most obvious example yet of his famous mind games since he arrived in Pretoria.
And White’s focus has been on the importance of the forward battle, with some sledges thrown the Stormers’ way over his perception that they will field a bench with six forwards and just two backs, the veteran coach implying that this was a betrayal of Western Province rugby’s running-rugby traditions.
But there can be no doubt that the Stormers’ greatest strength is their scrum and, in particular, the first-choice Springbok front row of Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi and Steven Kitshoff.
“The win over the Sharks was a good performance and a massive confidence boost, but this is a really big game on Saturday, just given the history between the two teams and the intensity of the clashes before,” White said.
“The Stormers pride themselves on their scrum and maul and the forward battle is going to be really important and we know we have to match them up front.
“Last week, both our game and the Stormers’ bad game against the Pumas showed that rugby has not changed, the forwards are always the ones who win the game for you and this Saturday will be one of those games too. What we learnt from the Pumas match is that the Stormers use their scrum to get out of their own half, and with that front row that works for you.”
Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen was also certainly looking forward to the arrival of his former team.
“They have a quality pack, that’s where it’s all going to go down. Their forwards really pulled them through against the Pumas, the momentum they got from the scrums allowed them to kick to touch and set up mauls. They may have a 100% success rate at scrum-time, but how many times has the scrum gone down? I think there have been lots of resets, but they know how to scrum,” Vermeulen said.
“We’ve lost a couple of scrums, but we will keep building. We’re trying to work on our consistency as a whole, we’re not there yet and we had a slippery start, losing at the death against the Cheetahs. It hasn’t been the consistency we want, but this is a North versus South derby and hopefully we play better as both individuals and as a team.”
Stormers coach John Dobson has been extolling the super powers of Kitshoff, his stand-in captain now that Siya Kolisi is injured, but it is the character of the men from the Cape that has probably been their greatest virtue so far in holding on for victory against the Lions and the great escape in Nelspruit.
Bulls: David Kriel, Travis Ismaiel, Stedman Gans, Cornal Hendricks, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Morné Steyn, Ivan van Zyl, Duane Vermeulen (capt), Elrigh Louw, Marco van Staden, Ruan Nortje, Jason Jenkins, Trevor Nyakane, Johan Grobbelaar, Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements: Joe van Zyl, Gerhard Steenekamp, Marcel van der Merwe, Sintu Manjezi, Nizaam Carr, Embrose Papier, Chris Smith, Marco Jansen van Vuren.
Stormers: Warrick Gelant, Edwill van der Merwe, Dan du Plessis, Rikus Pretorius, Leolin Zas, Damian Willemse, Herschel Jantjies, Juarno Augustus, Ernst van Rhyn, Jaco Coetzee, JD Schickerling, Salmaan Moerat, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff (capt). Replacements (from): Scarra Ntubeni, Leon Lyons, Neethling Fouche, Chris van Zyl, David Meihuizen, Marcel Theunissen, Ben-Jason Dixon, Godlen Masimla, Tim Swiel, Angelo Davids, Tristan Leyds.
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