URC – Preview – No Inch Given Or Asked When Vodacom Bulls Host DHL Stormers

 

The Vodacom Bulls will attempt to earn their third victory in a row and the DHL Stormers their fifth when the teams meet at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria where neither team will give an inch.

Spicing up the clash, only five points separate the teams on the table, with the Vodacom Bulls in second place and the DHL Stormers in sixth place, meaning a victory will give the winner a handy boost.

The same applies in the SA Shield title race, where victory for the DHL Stormers, on 17 points two ahead of the Vodacom Bulls, in Pretoria will all but seal the deal as they attempt to take the silverware back to Cape Town for the third season in a row.

Apart from keeping their SA Shield hopes alive, the Vodacom Bulls, who are on 35 points on the overall log, will also have their sights on possibly leaping to the top of the table if Leinster (39 pts) and the Glasgow Warriors (36 pts) slip up, which will motivate them immensely.

Adding to this, they will want to keep their perfect home record at Fortress Loftus this season intact. They will also be hellbent on changing their fortunes against the Capetonians, who have won the last seven encounters between the sides.

The Vodacom Bulls will enter the match with the bragging rights of being the best attacking team in the competition so far this season with an impressive 349 points in 10 matches, but the DHL Stormers will take pride in the fact that they have been one of the best defensive outfits, meaning it could prove to be a tight encounter.

The Vodacom Bulls are boosted in morale by the return of Wilco Louw and Zak Burger who make returns from injury. Louw was sidelined by a shoulder knock sustained in Bristol whilst Burger has recovered from a knee ding in Lyon. Louw slots into the front row, at tight-head prop, alongside Gerhard Steenekamp (loose-head) and Johan Grobbelaar (hooker). Behind the trio will be the lock combination of the Ruan’s. Marco van Staden lines up on the blindside with Reinhardt Ludwig at the openside flank whilst Marcell Coetzee shifts to eighth-man duty.

The halfback partnership between Embrose Paier (scrumhalf) and Johan Goosen (flayhalf) will connect the forwards with the unchanged backline from round 10.

Director of Rugby Jake White says he is excited for the sold-out matchup.

“I am excited for tomorrow, it’s going to be nice for the guys. It is nice for them to play in front of a big crowd, baying for the franchise like in the past. I am glad they can be a part of that because I hope that will be the catalyst for us to kick on for the next couple of seasons,”

“It doesn’t get any bigger than this, besides a World Cup final, for a pool game it probably doesn’t get any bigger than this. Not many provincial players will have played in front of 51 000 people, besides the World Cup winners; there aren’t many provincial players who will have played in front of a big crowd like what is expected and that in itself comes with a challenge for the young guys who have not done that before and we must help them with that.”

Asked whether or not this match will serve as a marker, White responded: “The match is not make or break but a marker of where we are and what is working and what is not working, and we have a lot of things working for us. Where we were then and where we are now is chalk and cheese,”

“Tomorrow for me, is irrelevant to what has happened before because our growth process is coming together. The calibre of players we have brought in, Akker, Willie, Nizaam and Devon have brought us experience and our combinations are coming together well.”

On the forced changes, the Vodacom Bulls mentor said: “The reality is you never have the full 23 that you want, some week you think you will have a particular player and they get injured and that changes the whole dynamic and for this clash, we have five changes compared to the last time we played them, I’d like to think that will make a difference,”

“It could be tight at the end and if you look at the past games, there haven’t been blowouts against us in the last couple of years, it has always been close encounters. So to have the experience of Springbok players coming on from the bench is going to be vital for us,”

On the team approach against their visitors and finding balance: “The secret is to find the balance and pitch up with your head on. We have lost to them a few times and in those few times we have lost to them, it has almost been through the inexperience of what is happening around you and that has been for both our experienced and younger players,”

“We must pitch up not just physically but also with an understanding of how the game is going to go, showing that we are clever enough and learnt the lessons from the last couple of seasons to understand that they will take the advantage if we give it to them. We have got to be a bit more street-smart about what they are trying to do and what we are trying to do to make sure they don’t do it right.“

On the encounter being almost sold out: “It is a wonderful thing for two South African sides to pull 50,000 people into the stadium for a pool game. The players and the people involved are (really) doing their bit for rugby South Africa.”

Deon Fourie returns as captain of the DHL Stormers. The experienced flank is joined by fellow Springboks Damian Willemse and Manie Libbok in making their return from a resting period for the South African derby, which kicks off at 17h05 on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld.

Dan du Plessis has recovered from an ankle injury and will take his place in midfield alongside Willemse, while Herschel Jantjies will partner Libbok at halfback.

There are just two changes to the starting forward pack that did duty in the win against the Hollywoodbets Sharks a fortnight ago, with Fourie on the side of the scrum and Sti Sithole in the front row at loosehead prop.

Brok Harris and Sazi Sandi are the props on a replacements bench which also features the likes of Marcel Theunissen and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who started in Durban.

DHL Stormers Head Coach John Dobson said that his team is looking forward to what should be a great occasion.

“A North-South showdown at a packed Loftus Versfeld is something for everyone in South African rugby to get excited about and we are looking forward to playing our part.

“It is great to have some of our Boks back for this one and while we would have loved to include Frans Malherbe too, he will unfortunately need a little longer to be at the peak of his considerable powers.

“There were some tough selection decisions to make for this game and the players involved are all up for what should be another classic,” he said.

Teams

Vodacom Bulls: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 David Kriel, 11 Canan Moodie, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Marcell Coetzee (cc), 7 Reinhardt Ludwig, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje (cc), 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp. Replacements: 16 Simphiwe Matanzima, 17 Akker van der Merwe, 18 Francois Kloppers, 19 JF van Heerden, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Willie Le Roux, 23 Mpilo Gumede.

DHL Stormers: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Ben Loader, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Evan Roos, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Adre Smith, 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Sti Sithole. Replacements: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Sazi Sandi, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Ben-Jason Dixon, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu.