CAPE TOWN – While the Bulls suffered an agonisingly close last-minute defeat to the Highlanders at the weekend, the upward curve they’ve been on this season - particularly in terms of performance rather than results - cannot be ignored.
They’ve looked a new team under John Mitchell, and there’s no doubt that the Stormers - who have to win this clash to keep their hopes of cracking into the top eight Super Rugby spots alive - are in for a tough one when they host their rivals at Newlands on Saturday. Here are four Bulls threats the Stormers will have to overcome.
1. Driving maul
When the Stormers met the Bulls earlier this season, the Bulls wreaked absolute havoc at the driving maul and bagged two tries for their powerful work. Their driving maul has been good in general this season, and it’s proved one of their strongest assets.
But Stormers assistant coach Russell Winter was confident that the Stormers have improved in that area when he addressed the media earlier this week - explaining that the Cape side haven’t conceded a single driving maul try since their trip to Loftus.
He also stated that they will certainly aim to keep improving on their work at the driving maul, and admitted that the Bulls’ supremacy in that area “hurt them” in the 33-23 defeat.
Defence at the driving maul is going to be crucial, discipline as well, as no team needs any reminding of how easy it is for the defending team to come up short and get penalised.
2. The lock combination
How good has the second-row pairing of RG Snyman and Lood de Jager been this season? They’ve been massive, and apart from doing all the stuff they’re supposed to, there’s also been a lot of additional treats they’ve served South African rugby fans that have been nothing short of superb.
De Jager finally seems to be making his way back to his scintillating 2015 form after taking a dip in the last two years, and that’s great. But Snyman this guy has just introduced a whole new dish this season.
His work rate, physicality and skillset that reminds you of a Kiwi lock have all contributed to his rise, and although the Stormers are without powerhouse lock Eben Etzebeth, it should be interesting to see how Robbie Fleck’s second row holds up to the Bulls’. To see Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit go up against fellow Bok De Jager and Snyman would have been a battle for rugby’s finest books.
But it will still be good to rate Du Toit’s contributions against the Bulls duo’s. Du Toit has also been superb this season, and while he’s started at blindside flank a few times, his best position is lock. And seeing him have a go in one of the lock jumpers against Mitchell’s troops will be exciting.
The Bulls, in general, have looked a rejuvenated mix under Mitchell. And while there’s some uncertainty surrounding the Bulls run-on side with Mitchell opting to only fine tune his team sheet once he gets news on Roelof Smit’s fitness, there can be no uncertainty when it comes to the quality of the Bulls backline.
Warrick Gelant has been huge at fullback, while Jesse Kriel has also done his fair share at centre. Scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl has also come through well, but it’s his halfback partner Handre Pollard who has stolen the show even before kick-off.
Pollard produced a pivot masterclass last week so, automatically, all eyes will be on him to see if he will copy and paste the class of that outing against the Highlanders at Newlands. General note for the Stormers on the Bulls’ backs? Keep. Them. In. Check.
4. That attack
The Bulls have made proper strides as an attacking unit. They’ve scored stunning tries from different parts of the field, and one thing that has stood out in those spells (well apart from the skill level of some of the forwards, of course) has been the interplay between backs and forwards.
The timing and quality of those inside passes, offloads and their put-your-mate-in-space throws in general have been hot.
And so have been some of the running lines and decision-making.