Stormers face prop and lock conundrum for Bulls clash

Frans Malherbe of the Stormers should be eligible for selection against the Bulls this weekend. | BackpagePix

Frans Malherbe of the Stormers should be eligible for selection against the Bulls this weekend. | BackpagePix

Published Feb 26, 2024

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Leighton Koopman

The Stormers hope to extend their unbeaten run of games to seven at the weekend when they face the Bulls in their return north-south derby clash in the United Rugby Championship (URC).

A win at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday (kick-off 5.05 pm) will also underpin the Cape side’s chokehold over the Bulls, making it eight consecutive wins over them. On top of that, a victory could secure the SA Shield for the inaugural URC champions.

Frans Malherbe of the Stormers should be eligible for selection against the Bulls this weekend. | BackpagePix

They currently lead their rivals on the conference standings, despite the Bulls occupying third place on the overall URC log and having a five-point buffer over their opponents.

But because the Stormers are unbeaten against South African sides this season, they are on top of the local group.

After the Loftus side came to Cape Town brimming with confidence, the Stormers burst their bubble and had the last laugh, outwitting their Springbok-laden visitors 26-20 in front of thousands of fans.

The ticket sellers in Pretoria are hoping to put the sold-out sign up at the stadium ahead of the game, and a full house of support could make it a more daunting experience for the Cape side.

But they’ve also shown time and again that they will fight until the end, even if the odds are stacked against them, to secure a win. And a win on Saturday could not only be a significant one in terms of the Stormers’ hopes of retaining the SA Shield but also of catching the home side on the overall URC log.

The trip to Ceres, where they trained away from the Cape Town noise, was the perfect build-up to the preparation week ahead of their travels to the Jakaranda City.

Head coach John Dobson and his assistants have a few big selection calls to make. He will most likely bring back all of his Springboks for the clash after they rested against the Sharks.

Flyhalf Manie Libbok, utility back Damian Willemse, and ball fetcher Deon Fourie will be eager to step in. The players who stood in for them performed excellently against a Bok-laden Sharks outfit, though, and deserve another look-in.

Then there is the little prop and lock conundrum for Dobson.

He mentioned that Frans Malherbe will be up for selection, but stand-in captain Neethling Fouché has been excellent in the scrums. It will be a tough call to start Malherbe against what will be a fired-up Bulls pack, but he is not a double World Cup winner for nothing.

The return of regular captain Salmaan Moerat means the locks could get a shake-up too. Moerat will be raring to go after making a return off the bench against the Sharks.

Ruben van Heerden, Adre Smith, Hendre Stassen, and Ben-Jason Dixon have been holding the fort well, but the experience of Moerat will be vital in Pretoria.