Cape Town – It’s set to be a carnival atmosphere at Loftus Versfeld this evening when the Bulls take on the Stormers (5.05pm kickoff), with about 40 000 tickets having been sold.
The Bulls hope to turn things around against the Capetonians after four losses in a row, so here are five big player match-ups that could have a major bearing on the result…
Wandisile Simelane v Ruhan Nel
Simelane has been forced to play wing and even fullback since his move to Pretoria from the Lions, but when he has donned the No 13 jersey, he has made a real impact. His speed and ability to hit the outside gap makes him one to watch with ball-in-hand, but he will have to be wary of Nel.
The Stormers midfielder closes down space in expert fashion to deny his opponents room to manoeuvre by making good reads and the odd intercept.
Nel also runs excellent lines on attack, and will be a handful for Simelane to stop in defence.
Sbu Nkosi v Suleiman Hartzenberg
Wow, get ready for some fireworks! We all know what a wonderful talent Nkosi is, and he is a 2019 Rugby World Cup winner. He’s had a difficult time off the field in recent months, but he is so good that Jake White has brought him straight back into the Bulls starting line-up.
It’s a big game and 40 000 spectators are set to fill up Loftus, and Nkosi has the big-match temperament to thrive.
But Hartzenberg is the young upstart who has been outstanding in his first season of senior rugby, having matriculated from Bishops in 2021.
The 19-year-old just seems to have the Midas touch, having scored some sensational tries for the Stormers. Can he handle a heaving Loftus, though?
Chris Smith v Manie Libbok
Will it be the razzle-dazzle of Libbok or the consistency of Smith that will rule Loftus?
The Bulls No 10 is a solid performer who showed that he can handle the big occasion when he slotted an extra-time drop goal against the Sharks in last season’s quarter-final, and he seldom makes mistakes.
But Smith needs his forwards to provide front-foot ball in order for him to get his backline away and find space with his tactical kicks, while he is also accurate at goal.
Libbok is a very different player. It’s all about skill, pace and panache for the Stormers pivot. He makes things happen by being a strike-runner himself or as a playmaker who can bring his outside backs into the game.
Libbok is in top form, and will be hard to stop…
Marco van Staden v Deon Fourie
If ever Bulls fetcher Van Staden wants to stake a claim for the World Cup, then this is the game to do it.
Having been part of the Bok squad over the last few years, the Bulls No 6 is now behind Stormers counterpart Fourie in the Springbok pecking order.
Fourie has been in terrific form for the Capetonians, being a menace at the breakdowns, carrying the ball with great energy and producing a high work-rate on defence.
Van Staden still gets around the park and makes the odd steal, but needs to come up with the performance of his life to not only aid his Bok ambitions, but also slow the Stormers’ momentum on attack.
Scarra Ntubeni v Johan Grobbelaar
It’s been a tough few years for Ntubeni, with the latest Achilles injury having kept him out for 10 months. But he made his return recently, and has now been handed a welcome start on his 32nd birthday.
He has a point to prove as Joseph Dweba is now the undoubted first-choice Stormers hooker, and what better way to announce your comeback than with a commanding display at Loftus Versfeld.
Grobbelaar was on the Bok radar previously, but didn’t receive a Test cap, and now needs to remind the national team coaches of his value.
His lineout-throwing is outstanding, he pops up in the right places at the right times on attack, and he is also excellent at contesting the breakdowns.