Preview: Bulls v Stormers
The Bulls will be desperate to salvage some pride from their season when they host the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The men from Pretoria’s pride will be wounded after their latest catastrophic defeat; a 31-30 humbling by the minnows of South African rugby the Kings.
They have even lost to the Sunwolves in a season that has gone horribly wrong. Loftus, once a venue where opposition teams feared to play, is no longer the fortress it once was.
The Bulls have now gone four games at the famous venue without victory; the last time they lost more home games in succession was a run of nine losses from 2001 to 2003.
The Stormers have won eight of their last 11 games against the Bulls, including five of their last six, though each of their losses in that period has come on the road.
But the talk in the build-up to the match from the Stormers camp has been cautious, wary of the wounded animal in the form of the raging Bulls.
Stormers Head Coach Robbie Fleck said: “We want to make a step-up in a number of areas this weekend and we know that we will face a total onslaught from the Bulls, which is what we are looking for.
“We know that we are going to have to produce a big performance on Saturday and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Whereas the Stormers have the playoffs to look forward to, the Bulls have no chance of qualifying.
But Bulls coach, Nollis Marais, is adamant that his side still have a lot to play for, despite them missing the play-offs.
“We are playing the Stormers at Loftus,” said Marais.
“This remains one of the biggest games for this team and nothing has changed about that. Yes, we are out of the running, but that does not mean that we do not want to win this one. We will really be chasing the win.”
And Bulls captain, Adriaan Strauss, feels that the team can still make a statement against the Stormers.
“We certainly owe them one following our defeat in the opening week,” said Strauss.
“We are a proud team and want to leave the field with our heads held high. We also need to snap the losing streak at home and what better way than beating the Stormers at Loftus.”
The last time the teams met: The Stormers recorded a comprehensive 37-24 victory. Tries from SP Marais, Cheslin Kolbe, Nizaam Carr, Siya Kolisi and Dillyn Leyds as well as 12 points from the boot of Jean-Luc Du Plessis proved too much for the Bulls who scored through Pierre Schoeman, Piet van Zyl and a Hanro Liebenberg brace.
Players to watch:
For Bulls: The Stormers’ defence must be wary of the threat that Jesse Kriel poses. Kriel is integral to this Bulls outfit, having played more minutes this season than any other player. He possesses searing pace and is a skilful player who both knows how to score and create tries. Who could forget that clinical finish in the first Test against France a couple of weeks back?
For Stormers: The man of the moment for the Stormers is Cheslin Kolbe. His electrifying pace and great step is wreaking havoc among opposition defences. With two hat-tricks in two weeks, is there a deadlier finisher in Super Rugby at the present moment? We think not.
Team news: Flanker Shaun Adendorff will make his first start for the Bulls. Adendorff has played off the bench twice and will take over from Ruan Steenkamp, with the latter swapping places with Adendorff and moving to the bench. This swap is one of two in the pack that came up short against the Southern Kings last weekend. In the other, Pierre Schoeman earns a start at loosehead prop, with Lizo Gqoboko out with a niggle. The bench will see the return of Piet van Zyl as back-up scrum-half and Trevor Nyakane as back-up prop.
Meanwhile, the Stormers welcome back the experienced trio of Rynhardt Elstadt, Juan de Jongh and Sikhumbuzo Notshe to their squad. Elstadt comes back into the starting line-up on the flank while De Jongh and Notshe make their return from injury on the replacements bench for what will be the Stormers final game of the regular season ahead of their home quarter-final at Newlands on July 22. The only other changes to the run-on team come in the tight five, with prop Frans Malherbe and lock Eben Etzebeth having recovered from the flu which forced them to miss last week’s 52-15 victory against the Sunwolves at Newlands. As a result Wilco Louw and Chris van Zyl will feature off the replacements bench, along with De Jongh and Notshe.
Form: The Bulls have won just four of their 14 games this season, with those victories coming against the Sunwolves, Jaguares, Cheetahs and Sharks. The Pretoria side have lost to the Stormers, Cheetahs, Blues, Chiefs, Sunwolves, Crusaders, Highlanders, Lions, Hurricanes and Kings.
Meanwhile, the Stormers have won nine of their fourteen games. They won their first six in a row against the Bulls, Jaguares, Kings, Sunwolves, Cheetahs and Chiefs but then lost their next four against the Lions, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes. Then, after beating the Blues, they lost to the Sharks before back-to-back wins over the Cheetahs and Sunwolves.
Prediction: The Stormers to inflict more misery on the Bulls. Stormers by 10.
2017: Stormers won 37-24 in Cape Town
2016: Bulls won 17-13 in Pretoria
2016: Stormers won 33-9 in Cape Town
2015: Stormers won 15-13 in Cape Town
2015: Stormers won 29-17 in Pretoria
2014: Stormers won 16-0 in Cape Town
2014: Bulls won 28-12 in Pretoria
2013: Stormers won 30-13 in Cape Town
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Duncan Matthews, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Nic de Jager, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Shaun Adendorff, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conrad Janse van Vuuren, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 John Roy Jenkinson, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tony Jantjies, 23 Burger Odendaal
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth (vc), 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Dan Kriel
Date: Saturday, July 15
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant Referees: Federico Anselmi, Jaco van Heerden
TMO: Marius Jonker