Planet Rugby

Preview: Bulls v Stormers

12th July 2013 08:17

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bryan habana

Emotional exit: Bryan Habana

The Bulls visit Cape Town this weekend aiming to become the second South African team to top the Super Rugby overall table since the competition was expanded to 15 teams in 2011.

The current leaders will arrive at Newlands to face last year's table toppers knowing exactly what they need to secure a home semi-final and a potential final at Loftus.

Loses for either the Brumbies on Chiefs earlier in the day would effectively hand the Bulls a semi-final in Pretoria. Even if the Brumbies beat the Force with the bonus point, the Bulls will only need a single point to finish in the top two and thus avoid a play-off next week.

But, as any side with title aspirations will tell you, a home final is key if you want to go all the way. And with the Chiefs expected to get the job done against the Blues in Auckland, the Bulls are likely to need victory in the Mother City to secure top spot, synonymous with a home final (assuming they get that far).

Yet, Frans Ludeke will not have mentioned anything along these lines to his team during this week's preparations. Looking too far ahead is a sure way to take your eye of the ball, so to speak, and the Saturday's visitors cannot afford to be below their best.

Indeed, although the Stormers will be playing for nothing more than pride, the hosts will fancy their chances of upsetting the apple cart as they head into the final round of the regular season on the back of a four-game winning streak. This year, the Capetonians have lost only one home game (to the Crusaders). In the last three seasons, the Stormers have only lost six home games out of 25, two of which were semi-finals.

The Bulls however are on that list of teams that have won at Newlands (notably 19-16 in 2011) and they outscored the Stormers two tries to one in last year's narrow loss. Perhaps more importantly, the men from Pretoria arrive carrying plenty of momentum as they are unbeaten in their nine games since returning to the Republic from their overseas tour.

The focus of attention this week has been on record-breaking wing Bryan Habana, who will be playing his 57th and final match for the Stormers, whom he joined after winning two Super Rugby titles and playing 61 games for the Bulls. Emotions are sure to run high.

But Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers is likely to play a more influential role from inside centre in his battle with his relatively inexperienced opposite number Francois Venter.

"A North/South derby is always a big game, it doesn't matter that there's no pressure or that you're playing for academic reasons," said Stormers coach Allister Coetzee.

"There's a lot of pride at stake and we want to finish on a high. It's massively important for us to win this weekend. We'd like to finish on a high and carry that momentum into the next competition."

Bulls captain Dewald Potgieter knows his team will have to make a step-up in their approach and execution after last week's underwhelming one-point win against the Sharks.

"We did not react well in certain situations when placed under pressure last weekend and will have to improve on that," said Potgieter.

"The Stormers have momentum and the home crowd on their side and this being the big North/South derby we will have to front up. It is fair to say that this will be our biggest test this season."

Previous results:
2013: Bulls won 17-25 in Pretoria
2012: Stormers won 19-14 in Pretoria
2012: Stormers won 20-17 in Cape Town
2011: Bulls won 19-16 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 23-13 in Pretoria

Prediction: It's a tough one to call as these clashes are always tight. The Bulls have everything to play for but flattered to deceive in last week's win over the Sharks. The Stormers will be keen to prove that they are still a top side and we reckon the respective changes at 12 could prove critical. Stormers to edge it by less than five points.

The teams:

Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Don Armand, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Damian de Allende.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Dewald Potgieter (capt), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Morné Mellet, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Jürgen Visser.

Date: Saturday, July 13
Venue: Newlands
Kick-off: 19:10 local (18:10 BST, 17:10 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Linston Manuels (South Africa)

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