The blossoming Bulls are unlikely to wilt against the Force, it will be a match made for the engine rooms of the Sharks and Stormers in Durban and the Cheetahs will be on the run again, this time against the defending champions, writes KEN BORLAND, who sets no great store by previous results.
Previous results certainly won’t matter as the Sharks and Stormers go head-to-head at 19:10pm on Saturday night in Durban in a repeat of last year’s SuperRugby semi-final.
The Stormers are bound to be better than the limp outfit that succumbed to defeat in Pretoria, while the Sharks will be aware that even though they were impressive against the Cheetahs, there was still much room for improvement as they allowed their opponents back into the game in the second half.
Even if previous results did mean something, it is instructive that, since 1998, the Sharks and Stormers have met 18 times, with each side winning on nine occasions.
The Sharks will certainly go into the game as favourites at home and come into the crunch match as a settled outfit, coach John Plumtree having made just one change, Jean Deysel replacing Jacques Botes at flank.
Botes was chosen as an out-and-out fetcher against the expansive Cheetahs, but Deysel will be employed as a battering ram and strong ball-carrier against the physical Stormers pack in what should be a tight contest in Durban, the expected humidity making running rugby a tough ask.
The Stormers were described as “embarrassing” by coach Allister Coetzee after losing 25-17 to the Bulls last weekend, but it would be stupid to write off a team that has such quality in its ranks and has been the form team in South African rugby over the last couple of years.
Elton Jantjies is a top-class flyhalf, otherwise Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer would not have given him a second glance, but he suffered a miserable afternoon at Loftus. The 22 year old is a loan player trying to fit into a brand new style of play and he has had a tough time of it lately, what with his father, a major influence on his career, passing away due to a freakish bee sting.
Coetzee does at least have a second goalkicking option on the field in Joe Pietersen, who comes in at fullback after Jaco Taute sustained a groin injury. Peter Grant on the bench also provides a reassuring presence and the Japanese campaigner has a history of coming on as a replacement to great effect.
Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Pat Cilliers are three of the most promising props in domestic rugby, but they will need to lift their game against Springboks Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira after being tamed by the Bulls last weekend.
The Stormers will also want to make better use of the lineout, where Andries Bekker, Duane Vermeulen, De Kock Steenkamp and Rynhardt Elstadt have considerable ability.
Both the Sharks and Stormers boast wonderfully attacking backlines but, at this time of year, the weather in Durban is really not conducive to flashy rugby.
The Western Force, having lost to the rookies in Port Elizabeth last weekend, are now at Fortress Loftus and will need to be at their best to beat the Bulls.
Which, funnily enough, they usually are against the three-time champions, the ledger standing at 3-3 in the six matches they have played since the Perth franchise joined the competition in 2006.
The Force team was not yet available yesterday, but one thing is certain: they will be better acclimatised and will have put the shock against the Southern Kings behind them, looking forward instead to meeting a team they do seem to have some sort of hold over.
The Bulls are still in the process of building a new dynasty to replace those stars who won the trophy three times, but there are real signs their new generation is starting to bloom.
Loosehead prop Morné Mellett made a fantastic SuperRugby debut last weekend and Sampie Mastriet will earn his first cap on the right wing on Saturday, as coach Frans Ludeke shuffles the backline due to injuries to JJ Engelbrecht and Akona Ndungane.
“Sampie had a good Currie Cup and he is an exciting player. Throughout his career, when in broken field and space, he can be devastating. This is a great opportunity and he has been working towards this for four years,” Ludeke said.
He has also chosen the uncapped duo of loose forward Jean Cook and centre Jan Serfontein on the bench, and Ludeke will be particularly keen to see how the latter, a former IRB Junior Player of the Year, goes.
Cook is a Grey College product and he gets his call-up because of injuries to Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann, forcing Ludeke to push Arno Botha and Jacques Potgieter into the starting line-up.
Having won so impressively last weekend, there is little doubt the Bulls will employ the same safety-first tactics against the Force (Aussie sides don’t really like playing that way) and Morné Steyn will once again be the key man, using his boot to pin the opposition in their own territory and then capitalising on their indiscretions with his in-form goal-kicking.
Facing the Sharks last weekend was a tough task for the Cheetahs and it only gets harder for them as they take on the Chiefs, defending champions and coming off a fantastic away win over the Highlanders. And the match is in Hamilton, a daunting venue for any visitor.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske has made one change to his starting line-up, Sarel Pretorius replacing Piet van Zyl at scrumhalf, and two on the bench, with lock Ligtoring Landman and utility back Riaan Smit coming in for the injured duo of Waltie Vermeulen and Elgar Watts.
Pretorius should add more attacking spark and better cohesion between forwards and backs, but a massive improvement in the tight phases will be necessary for the Cheetahs to entertain thoughts of just their second victory in New Zealand.
Flyhalf Johan Goosen had a rough first half last weekend against the Sharks, before putting in an impressive second-half display, when Pretorius was on the field. The experienced former Waratahs half-back will provide the young prodigy with someone to confide in as Goosen looks to show his brilliant SuperRugby debut season was no illusion.
The Chiefs have lost two players who were integral to their triumph in 2012 – Sonny Boy Williams and Sona Taumololo – but their new arrivals, headed by Gareth Anscombe at fullback, have been able to fit in well.
It will take an upset as incredible as the one in Port Elizabeth last weekend for the Cheetahs to win in Hamilton. DM
Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller, Willie le Roux, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule, Johan Goosen, Sarel Pretorius, Philip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Frans Viljoen, Francois Uys, Lood de Jager, Lourens Adriaanse, Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Ryno Barnes, Coenie Oosthuizen, Ligtoring Landman, Boom Prinsloo, Piet van Zyl, Riaan Smit, Ryno Benjamin.
Bulls: Zane Kirchner, Sampie Mastriet, Lionel Mapoe, Wynand Olivier, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies, Arno Botha, Jacques Potgieter, Juandré Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Morné Mellett. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Frik Kirsten, Grant Hattingh, Jean Cook, Jano Vermaak, Louis Fouché, Jan Serfontein.
Sharks: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee, Franco van der Merwe, Anton Bresler, Jannie du Plessis, Craig Burden, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Wiehahn Herbst, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jacques Botes, Charl McLeod, Meyer Bosman, Odwa Ndungane.
Stormers: Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Jean de Villiers, Damian de Allende, Bryan Habana, Elton Jantjies, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Frans Malherbe, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Martin Bezuidenhout, Pat Cilliers, Don Armand, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Peter Grant, Gerhard van den Heever.
Other fixtures (all on Friday): 8:30 Blues v Crusaders (Auckland); 10:20 Waratahs v Rebels (Sydney); 12:20 Reds v Hurricanes (Brisbane). Byes: Highlanders, Brumbies, Southern Kings.
Some firing squads are all issued with blank cartridges with the exception of one person. This helps alleviate personal responsibility for the execution squad.