Cape Town – There is no doubt that the Stormers are “favourites” against the Bulls, but that doesn’t mean Jake White wants to hear the number of times the Capetonians have beaten his team in the United Rugby Championship.
The Pretoria side have laid low this week, avoiding the media as they went about their way at Loftus Versfeld to prepare for Saturday’s URC quarter-final at Cape Town Stadium (3.30pm kickoff), and White said he wasn’t even tempted to pick kicking ace Morné Steyn at flyhalf after naming a team on Friday that is virtually the same one that beat Zebre and a weak Leinster side in the last few league rounds.
Talking about Leinster, that was the biggest upset of last season’s tournament as the Bulls went all the way to the RDS Arena in Dublin and stunned the Irish giants 27-26 in the semi-final.
White, though, still feels that the Stormers deserve the necessary attention from his team. “I think you’re being disrespectful to the Stormers if you say last year (against Leinster) was a bigger ask. These are champions… These guys won the competition,” the former Bok coach said on Friday.
“Ten incumbent Springboks, lost one home game in the last eight months. They must be favourites – they’ve beaten us five times. If I hear that again, I think I am going to get sick!
“But five times… It’s irrelevant. It’s absolutely irrelevant how many times they’ve won before. The players are in the right space. It’s knockout rugby now, and a couple of months ago, we had no chance of making the playoffs.
“If I read all the articles, we were doom and gloom. We had, in everyone’s eyes, a poor season after ending sixth on the log. Some teams play really well and end up fifth and fourth…
“So, it’s a massive challenge, I am not disputing that. But it’s a knockout game now, and one thing we have managed to do over time is to play really well in games that have counted, where we’ve had to win and knock people out of competitions.
“That’s all I can trust myself and the team on – we’ve got a history of playing really well in those big games. And it’s going to be massive: I heard there’s going to be 38 000 tickets sold, and we played in that final last year and it was an unbelievable occasion.”
The only tweaks White made to his match-23 were on the bench, where Simphiwe Matanzima comes in for Dylan Smith as the loosehead prop cover, while Nizaam Carr returns after recovering from concussion as the reserve loose forward ahead of WJ Steenkamp.
Veteran centre Lionel Mapoe is also in the mix in place of Cornal Hendricks.
Bulls team: 15 Kurt-Lee Arendse 14 Canan Moodie 13 Stedman Gans 12 Harold Vorster 11 David Kriel 10 Johan Goosen 9 Embrose Papier 8 Elrigh Louw 7 Cyle Brink 6 Marco van Staden 5 Ruan Nortjé (captain) 4 Ruan Vermaak 3 Mornay Smith 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Francois Klopper 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 Nizaam Carr 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Chris Smith 23 Lionel Mapoe.