Pretoria - The Stormers may boast a squad packed with promising youngsters, but the Bulls have named a team bristling with men eager to remind naysayers that they have been to the summit of Super Rugby, and they’ve got the silverware to prove it.
Pierre Spies will lead the Bulls out for their season-opener against the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night (7pm kick-off).
The three-time champions have largely been billed as outsiders to win this SA Conference derby based on a rollercoaster 2012 campaign.
There’s also a strong smell of confidence wafting out of the Stormers camp, ostensibly linked to a clean sweep of the Bulls last season and a run of good results for Western Province’s rampant junior sides against the Blue Bulls in recent years.
However, unless this callow Stormers side is holding an ace up their proverbial sleeves, it would be prudent for them to take a closer look at who they will be lining up against this week.
The travelling side features six players under the age of 23, two of whom - Damian de Allende and Nic Groom - are set to make their Super Rugby debuts.
The total Super Rugby experience of the Stormers’ 22-man squad is 853 caps, with the starting line-up accounting for 658 of those appearances.
By contrast, the Bulls run-on side represents 807 of the matchday squad’s 1 000 caps.
In addition, the Bulls will take to the field with no fewer than eight players who won the Super 14 title in 2010, including Spies, Zane Kirchner, Wynand Olivier, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger and Chiliboy Ralepelle.
De Allende will line up against Olivier, South Africa’s most experienced Super Rugby centre with 103 caps.
Newbie Groom and flyhalf Elton Jantjies (27 appearances) will do battle against the Bulls halfback combination of Francois Hougaard and Morne Steyn, who have 151 Super Rugby caps between them.
Meanwhile Dewaldt Duvenage - the most experienced halfback in the Stormers’ offical 35-man squad, and a proven tactical weapon that is best utilised on the Highveld - has been named to the bench.
There’s no doubt that coach Allister Coetzee has a cunning plan for the latest edition of the north-south derby, but if it is one designed on the premise that the Bulls are a team of plodding has-beens, the Stormers are going to start the season with a loss for the first time since 2009.