Newlands is one that really matters
Both teams have completed only 25% of their league season but you get the feeling the Vodacom Super Rugby derby set to be played out in a test match atmosphere at Newlands on Saturday is the point at which the results start to really matter for the Stormers and the Bulls.
For the Stormers the ante is raised by the knowledge of what this game is the start of. On Sunday they fly to New Zealand to start a tough tour. They won’t have much time to get over the jetlag and the inevitable bumps and bruises before they play the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Winning in Dunedin after the long flight from South Africa is going to be a big ask regardless of the Cape Town result, but at least some of the pressure to win will be alleviated if the Stormers leave for overseas with a record that reads played five and won five.
The Stormers play the Crusaders the week after they play the Highlanders, and if they lose on Saturday, it is not inconceivable that it could be the start of a three-match losing sequence.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is acutely aware of what momentum means in this competition, and it works in both directions.
It is why for him this game is such a massive one. And it should be like that for the Bulls too as they have lost a home game already and while this is an away clash for them, they know that another defeat will leave them two wins behind the Stormers.
Although they have virtually made that up by picking up three bonus points against the Stormers’ none, they face a tough fixture against the Crusaders at Loftus the following week. So victory against the Stormers is crucial if they are not to find themselves chasing the game at this early stage of the season.
Adding to the intrigue in what is sure to be a confrontation as bruising as it will be absorbing is the moment of truth that both teams face.
The Stormers have won four games they should have been expected to win but they have yet to play a team with the strengths the Bulls boast, while for the Bulls this will be their first game away from altitude and they haven’t played against a team as physical as the Stormers.
PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS FOR WEEK 6 (all times are CAT, SA, GMT+2)
- Weekend’s Teams
- Working the Blindside - video preview
HIGHLANDERS v REBELS (Invercargill, Friday 8.35am)
The attrition rate has started to make itself felt at the Highlanders, with Colin Slade ruled out for the season due to the injury that forced him to be stretchered off against the Brumbies. That means the Highlanders will be starting with their third-choice flyhalf in the form of Chris Noakes in Friday’s game against the Rebels in Invercargill. There was further bad news during the week when it was confirmed that in-form flanker John Hardie has been ruled out for the season with the fractured toe sustained against the Hurricanes. The Highlanders have made four changes, with Adam Thomson returning to bolster the back row, Jason Rutledge starting ahead of Andrew Hore at hooker, while Jarred Hoeata also makes a return from injury. The Rebels have lost Danny Cipriani, with James O’Connor continuing at the flyhalf position he shifted to during the win over Western Force, but they’ve gained Kurtley Beale, who comes in for James Kingi at fullback.
Prediction: Highlanders to win by between 10 and 20.
HURRICANES v TOYOTA CHEETAHS (Wellington, Saturday 6.30am)
Hah, this is so much more difficult to take a line on than it would have been a few weeks ago. The Cheetahs have been competitive in all three of their overseas games and really surprised last week against the Crusaders. With WP Nel and Coenie Oosthuizen back in the front row, they have also significantly strengthened themselves in an area where they battled in Christchurch. They’ve been working hard under scrum doctor Os du Randt, and rightly so, for it was in the scrums that the Hurricanes were shown up by teams like the Stormers. Naka Drotske appears to have been clever in the way he has utilised his resources on this tour, so maybe the “one game too far” scenario we often see when South African teams go into their final engagement on a road trip won’t make itself evident this time. With the Cheetahs backline working so well and the Hurricanes backs also excelling, this game will be worth waking up for. The personal duel between two of the best young flyhalves in the competition, Johan Goosen and Beauden Beaumont, should be riveting.
- Cheetahs team announcement
Prediction: Hurricanes to win by less than 7.
CHIEFS v WARATAHS (Hamilton, Saturday 8.35am)
The Chiefs have reunited Richard Kahui and Sonny Bill Williams in the midfield as they come back from their bye looking to build on their impressive start to the season. The Chiefs also welcome back Hika Elliot and have made a shift to their back row. The Waratahs are unchanged from the team that won in the last minutes against the Sharks. The Waratahs really enjoyed their win against the Sharks last week so a lot will depend on what that strong finish has done to their momentum.
Prediction: Chiefs to win by between 5 and 15.
BRUMBIES v SHARKS (Canberra, Saturday 10.40am)
The loss to injury of Patrick Lambie should really be enough reason to write off the Sharks’ chances at another hoodoo venue. So much of the Sharks' game revolves around Lambie’s generalship at flyhalf, and without him there the Sharks don’t look the same team. But after blowing it against the Waratahs, the Sharks will be in a determined mood, and it is not as if Lambie’s replacement, Frederic Michalak, hasn’t been around the block a few times. The Brumbies are playing a South African type game, with strong forward driving and defence being a key element, but maybe that will work in the Sharks’ favour as they know what is required to blunt it. And with Jean Deysel set to come on in the second half, they have the players equipped to stop the Brumbies’ new strength from thriving. It’s just a hunch, but the Sharks are due a bit of luck at a venue where they have had so little of it over the years.
- Sharks team announcement
Prediction: Sharks to scrape home.
WESTERN FORCE v REDS (Perth, Saturday 12.40pm)
The Bulls’ big win over the Reds at Loftus highlighted what we already knew about the Australian challenge in Super Rugby – they just don’t boast the depth that South African and New Zealand teams do. While teams from those two countries can get away with a few injuries, the Aussie teams can’t, and the impact of injury is responsible for the fact that the Reds have conceded 88 points and scored just 13 in their last 130 minutes of rugby (50 minutes and 27 points against the Sharks and 80 minutes and 61 against the Bulls). The Reds have had to make a further five changes from last week, and while their salvation may lie around the corner as several top players get ready to return, they are going to struggle again in Perth. The question is: do the Force have the team to capitalise on it? They beat the Waratahs a few weeks back, but the Waratahs are also struggling, and last week’s defeat to the Rebels reminded me of my initial line that they are the worst team in the competition.
Prediction: Reds to win narrowly.
MTN LIONS v CRUSADERS (Johannesburg, Saturday 5.05pm)
Dan Carter returns to the Crusaders team as the starting flyhalf and that should be the catalyst for a comprehensive win on a field which should suit the Crusaders' style of rugby. Israel Dagg from fullback and wings Zac Guildford and Sean Maitland should be the men to benefit from Carter’s decision-making ability and astute tactical play and the Crusaders pack, which has George Whitelock and Wyatt Crockett returning, should get the better of the forward battle to provide the ball they need.
Prediction: Crusaders by 7 to 18.
DHL STORMERS v VODACOM BULLS (Cape Town, Saturday 7.10pm)
If you came down from Mars and hadn’t seen any rugby recently and just took in the two Super Rugby matches played on the Highveld last Saturday, you would be forgiven for thinking the Newlands derby was going to be a no-race. The Bulls were brilliant against the Reds, while the Stormers were lucky to scrape home against the Lions. I agree with John Mitchell’s contention that at this stage the Stormers don’t have the allround game to go all the way in the competition. But at home they may have too much for the Bulls. They know the Bulls well, they broke through a psychological barrier in Pretoria last March, and couldn’t have been worse than they were in the return clash and still lost by only three points. When what was essentially a Western Province under-21 side played a Bulls team that had several of the stars of their current team at Loftus in the Currie Cup last year, the young WP side came close to winning. The Stormers have been strengthened in several areas since then and will provide the Bulls with their biggest physical challenge so far. Jean de Villiers is right when he says it will probably be close, but the Stormers' strengths should negate the Bulls' strengths so I will be surprised if the hosts don’t win.
- Stormers team announcement
- Bulls team announcement
Prediction: Stormers to win by 3 to 12.