The North versus South derbies remain some the most anticipated clashes on the local Vodacom Super Rugby calendar and the late Saturday clash between the Bulls and the visiting Stormers will be no different. The DHL Stormers will be well aware of past visits to Loftus Versfeld and the stranglehold the Bulls have on them at this venue. The home side has lost only one of their last 19 matches at home and in 2014 they were unbeaten in Pretoria.
The Stormers lost seven of eight away last year and lost their opening matches in 2013 and 2014. That said, the visitors will be boosted by the fact that they won last year’s Absa Currie Cup in exciting fashion, playing a different kind of rugby than in Super Rugby, where they only scored 18.1 points per match, the lowest in the competition. The Stormers will back their defence to keep their try-line intact and they could well succeed in doing so if the Bulls do not cure their try-scoring blues.
The home side only scored 1.8 tries per match in 2014, fewer than any other team. Victor Matfield, the most experienced South African in the competition (138 matches) and most experienced captain ever (82), will be looking at forcing the visitors into a forward-dominated game. The Bulls had the best line-out rate in 2014 (91%) and the Stormers just 78%, so they will look to dominate that phase again. The visitors also face another potential obstacle in flyhalf Handrè Pollard, who kicked 26 out of 28 shots (93%) at goal last year, the best rate of the season.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke included all three off-season recruits, former Toyota Cheetahs hooker, Adriaan Strauss, prop Trevor Nyakane and flanker Lappies Labuschagne in the starting line-up. Ludeke also included Arno Botha at number eight, the first time the loose forward will play Super Rugby since June 1st, 2013. Stormers coach Allister Coetzee named three Springboks and six Stormers debutants in their match day squad.
Wings Johnny Kotze and Dillyn Leyds and also tighthead prop Vincent Koch are the new faces in the run-on side, with the new faces on the bench being Bongi Mbonambi (former Bulls hooker), tighthead prop Wilco Louw and outside back Huw Jones. New skipper Duane Vermeulen will lead the team from eighthman in a match which Coetzee has described as a “tough assignment” and a “great challenge”, “We’re looking forward to getting our campaign underway after a good pre-season and, as everyone knows, there’s no greater challenge than facing the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld – be it your first game or your last game of the season. It is (a tough assignment), but it’s been done before.”
The teams are:
Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Francois Hougaard, Handrè Pollard, Piet Van Zyl, Arno Botha, Lappies Labuschagne, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield (c), Jacques Du Plessis, Werner Kruger, Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: Callie Visagie, Mornè Mellet, Dayan Van Der Westhuizen/Neethling Fouchè, Grant Hattingh, Pierre Spies, Rudy Paige, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Jesse Kriel.
Stormers: Cheslin Kolbe, Johnny Kotze, Juan De Jongh, Damian De Allende, Dillyn Leyds, Demetri Catrakilis, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen (c), Michael Rhodes, Rynhardt Elstadt, Ruan Botha, Jean Kleyn, Vincent Koch, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Oli Kebble, Wilco Louw, Jurie Van Vuuren, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Kurt Coleman, Huw Jones