Preview: Stormers v Bulls

Date published: February 26 2016

Saturday's Super Rugby Round One derby between the Stormers and the Bulls is likely to be one of the most important games of the entire season.

North-South showdowns are always a big occasion and but this year the old rivalry between South Africa's two most successful franchises is even more significant.

With the Africa 1 conference widely expected to produce South Africa's top seed in the quarter-finals (since they will play the Australian conference as opposed to the supposedly stronger Kiwis) the result of this clash between the pool favourites is set to have far-reaching consequences.

History suggests it's likely to be a closely-fought contest too. The Stormers, one of the favourites to win the conference, and Bulls, potential winners also, have met 24 times in Super Rugby with the Cape side winning 14 of those matches. The average score is 22-22.

But the home side should be considered favourites since the Stormers have won six of their last eight matches against the Bulls, including the last three.

The Bulls have not managed to win at Newlands since 2011, failing to score more than 17 points in any of their four defeats in Cape Town since then.

Both teams relied heavily of their star fly-halves to keep the scoreboard ticking last season, but with Demetri Catrakilis (2015's top marksman) now in France and Handre Pollard ruled out for the season, the spotlight will fall on two relative rookies.  

Both sides, under new coaches, are also aspiring to take a slightly more adventurous approach to their style this season, meaning the role of respective playmakers Robert du Preez and Francois Brummer will be extremely important. The absence of Damian De Allende, the Stormers backline is a little lightweight meaning Juan de Jongh's battle with Jan Serfontein will also have a big effect on momentum of the respective attacks. 

But for all the talk about expansive play, this remains a South African derby likely to be decided up front, where the Stormers pack will want to lay down a marker against their less-experienced counterparts from Pretoria. 

The last time these teams met: The Stormers took control of the South African Conference thanks to a 15-13 win at Newlands. The home side led from start to finish, despite the Bulls scoring the only try of the game, early in the second-half through wing Bjorn Basson. With little attacking creativity on show, the result hinged largely on referee Jaco Peyper's rulings at scrum time, but the Stormers probably deserved their four points, having controlled most of the game thanks to the accurate boot of Catrakilis.

Players to Watch: With so much focus on the fly-halves, the men inside and outside of them are likely to play a crucial role too. Rudy Paige is looking to back up a stellar season that earned him a Springbok call up last year while his opposite number Jano Vermaak is looking to force his was back into national contention. Likewise, Nizaam Carr and Arno Botha are looking to impress at number eight in the absence of Duane Vermeulen and Pierre Spies. 

Team news: Springboks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Jano Vermaak will both make their debuts for the Stormers along with former Lions prop JC Janse van Rensburg, who has returned to South Africa from Bayonne in France and is on the bench. Juan de Jongh will lead the team from inside centre, with his fellow co-captain Frans Malherbe set to make an impact off the replacements bench as he works his way back from an ankle injury. Robert du Preez earning his second Super Rugby cap, and his first at fly-half. Also on the bench, former Junior Springboks JD Schickerling and Leolin Zas are in line to make their Super Rugby debuts.

The Bulls team features nine Springboks but still has a youthful look about it and features four Super Rugby debutants in the XV: Warrick Gelant, Nic de Jager, Jannes Kirsten and RG Snyman while Lizo Gqoboka and Jason Jenkins are  rookies on the bench. The likes of Francois Brummer, Tian Schoeman, Roelof Smit, Jaco Visagie and Hencus van Wyk also have only a handful number of Super Rugby games.

Form: The pre-season, the Stormers beat the SWD Eagles 40-15 before seeing off the Jaguares 29-14. The Bulls lost 28-10 to the Cheetahs before beating the Lions 28-24. The Stormers finished their 2015 Super Rugby season with a home loss in the play-offs and will be aiming to avoid back-to-back losses at home for the first time since the 2011 semi-finals. The Bulls finished 2015 on a five-game losing streak. The Bulls scored 57% of their tries (21/37) in the opening half of matches in 2015, the most of any team in the competition.

Predictions: This is never an easy fixture to predict but the Stormers' record of six wins from their last eight fixtures against the Bulls is hard to ignore. Stormers by seven points.

Previous results: 

2015: Stormers won 15-13 in Cape Town
2015: Stormers won 29-17 in Pretoria
2014: Stormers won 16-0 in Cape Town
2014: Bulls won 28-12 in Pretoria
2013: Stormers won 30-13 in Cape Town
2013: Bulls won 25-17 in Pretoria
2012: Stormers won 19-14 in Pretoria
2012: Stormers won 20-17 in Cape Town

The teams:

Stormers:  15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (co-captain), 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Frans Malherbe (co-captain), 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Leolin Zas

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelan, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic de Jager, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Marcel vd Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss. 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Burger Odendaal.

Date: Saturday, February 27
Venue: DHL Newlands
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa) 
Assistant Referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)