The circumstances of the 2009 Vodacom Super 14 showdown between fierce rivals the Vodacom Bulls and the Vodacom Stormers could make it one of the most explosive in 12 years of Super Rugby.
The Bulls are currently riding high after three wins from three that has taken them to the top of the log. With Saturday’s clash being the Bulls’ last home match before they embark on a tough five-match overseas, they will be looking to sustain their winning momentum.
The Stormers, meanwhile, have lost two of their opening three matches at home and are currently lying tenth in the standings. They are in desperate need of a win as they also face the daunting prospect of a lengthy tour that starts at the end of the month.
There was less at stake in meetings between these two in recent seasons. Last year they met in the opening round with the Bulls coming away with a 16-9 win, whilst in 2006 they met in round 13 when the Stormers were out of the running and the Bulls were ensured of a place in the last four. The Bulls won that clash 43-10.
The teams today confirmed their line-ups for their eagerly-awaited clash at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday, which kicks off at 17h00.
The Bulls have made three changes to the side that beat the Lions last week, two of them injury enforced. Under-20 winger Gerhard van der Heever will have big boots to fill in replacing the injured Bryan Habana, while Pedrie Wannenburg is promoted to the starting XV in place of injured loosie Dewald Pretorius. In a straight swap, JP Nel will start at centre ahead of Jaco Pretorius.
Coach Frans Ludeke, has named Victor Matfield, who suffered a shoulder injury during the opening round, on the bench.
The Stormers, meanwhile, have made four changes to their starting XV, the most telling being the change at flyhalf where Peter Grant is replaced by Willem de Waal.
Other tactical changes see AJ Venter promoted to the run-on XV ahead of Adriaan Fondse and Nick Koster replacing Sireli Naqelevuki on the wing. In an injury enforced change Wicus Blaauw replaces JD Moller who has been ruled out. Tighthead Brian Mujati has recovered from his injury whilst flanker Schalk Burger has until Friday morning to prove his fitness.
Whilst the Super Rugby history books show that the Cape franchise has the most wins in clashes with their traditional foe, the Stormers have yet to beat the Bulls in a Super 14 match. Their six victories between 1998 and 2004 all came in the Super 12 format.
Since 2005, however, the Bulls have been dominant. The turn-around in fortunes was defined by an emphatic 75 – 14 Super 12 win in Pretoria in 2005 and has continued into the Super 14 over the past three seasons with victories of 43-10, 49-12 and 16-9.
The teams have played to a draw once – 19-19 in 2000.
Whilst the Stormers can boast that they have three wins from five Super Rugby visits to Loftus they have struggled at the Bulls’ fortress in recent seasons and will no doubt be greeted by a ferocious sea of blue on Saturday.
All things considered, the Bulls will start as clear favourites, despite battling at times against the Lions last week. The Stormers have the talent and capacity to get a win but they will need to fire on all cylinders to make it happen. The changes to their line-up point to them playing a percentage game with de Waal making liberal use of the boot. They will also be expecting a tough forward battle, hence the inclusion of the experienced Venter at lock.
Previous Super Rugby meetings: Bulls vs Stormers
Bulls: have won 4
Stormers: have won 6
1998 Stormers 35 Bulls 18 in Cape Town
1999 Stormers 42 Bulls 19 in Pretoria
2000 Stormers 19 Bulls 19 in Cape Town
2001 Stormers 34 Bulls 23 in Pretoria
2002 Stormers 31 Bulls 27 in Cape Town
2003 Stormers 27 Bulls 24 in Pretoria
2004 Stormers 25 Bulls 11 in Cape Town
2005 Bulls 75 Stormers 14 in Pretoria
2006 Bulls 43 Stormers 10 in Cape Town
2007 Bulls 49 Stormers 12 in Pretoria
2008 Bulls 16 Stormers 9 in Cape Town
Bulls – 75-14 in Pretoria in 2005
Stormers – 42-19 in Pretoria in 1999
Vodacom Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JP Nel, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Gerhard van den Heever, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez (captain), 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Pedrie Wannenburg, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp. Reserves:16 Derick Kuün, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Victor Matfield, 19 Jacques Burger, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Jaco Pretorius.
Vodacom Stormers: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 Gcobani Bobo, 12 Jean De Villiers (captain), 11 Nick Koster, 10 Willem De Waal, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Luke Watson, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 AJ Venter, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Wicus Blaauw. Reserves: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Adriaan Fondse, 19 Francois Louw, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Sireli Naqelevuki.