Will it be another Bull run at Orlando?

2010-05-29 00:00

THE superiority of their kicking game and the influence of Springbok halfbacks Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn will provide the Bulls with a decisive edge in the Super 14 final against the Stormers at the Orlando Stadium this evening.

The Bulls have in their sights a third title in four years and are backed by confident supporters weaned on success; the Stormers, playing in their first Super rugby final and without a trophy since winning the Currie Cup in 2001, arrive in Soweto on a wave of Cape Town optimism which has been building all season.

The Bulls hold most of the obvious advantages. They are comfortable at altitude with the backing of their home crowd and they have the collective experience of playing and winning a string of finals.

But the Stormers are certainly capable of upsetting the odds. They have the most effective defence in the Super 14 — with only 17 tries conceded in 14 games — while their discipline has been excellent with only one yellow card all season.

They also have a spread of world-class talent in Andries Bekker and Schalk Burger among the forwards and Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana in the backline. And while much has been made of their defensive organisation, they also have game-breakers in Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon and Juan de Jongh, a calm flyhalf in Peter Grant — who goals over 80% of his kicks — and a strong, cohesive backrow.

But the Stormers do face physical and mental challenges. While they have added a tough edge to their forward play this year, their scrum creaked badly against both the Waratahs and the Sharks in recent weeks, and they will have to stand up strongly in that area this evening.

The soaring high kicks of the Bulls’ Du Preez, Steyn and Zane Kirchner in the ideal conditions of the Highveld will also test the resolve and fielding technique of their back three.

But it is the state of mind which is crucial to this Stormers team. Against the Sharks, in Durban, they were surprisingly limp and vulnerable in defeat, yet the same line-up had comfortably crushed the buoyant Blues 33-21 when they met in Auckland. They are capable of rising to the physical challenge away from home, but we will only know tonight whether the importance of this massive occasion sparks or douses the fire in their bellies.

Certainly the Bulls, with the tactical kicking of Du Preez and Steyn behind an advancing, bruising pack, have the perfect game plan for a crunch final at altitude.

The Stormers, if they are to succeed, have to carry the battle into the face of the enemy, win the collisions, disrupt and pressure the Bulls forwards and prevent Du Preez and Steyn controlling the flow of the contest.

Technically and tactically there is little to choose between the protagonists, the Bulls with the best attacking record in the Super 14 against the best defenders. But there are also several intriguing personal battles — between Victor Matfield and Bekker in the lineouts, Steyn and Grant at flyhalf, Wynand Olivier and De Jongh in midfield, Habana and the young Gerhard van den Heever out wide and, critically, between two committed backrows at the breakdown.

The successful Stormers coach, Allister Coetzee, wary of Morne Steyn, says that the team “making the fewest mistakes and with the stronger discipline” will take the title.

Certainly referee Craig Joubert’s interpretation of the breakdown could prove decisive if the contest is as close as it promises to be.

Coetzee is hoping that the adage of defence winning finals holds true, but Morne Steyn’s ability to translate territory into points has proved that wrong in the past and the Stormers will want to keep the flyhalf out of range by winning the battle for territory.

The shift from Loftus to Soweto may have removed some of the Bulls’ home comforts, but they have embraced the move and believe that tonight they will again dance (if that is possible) to the raucous blaring of the thousands of vuvuzelas.

The bookies and most neutrals agree, but the Stormers, chasing their place in history, will be dangerous opponents, and one piece of magic or glaring error could turn this close, hectic final on its head.

TEAMS

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.

Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Bees Roux, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Derick Kuün, 20 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 21 Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 22 Pedrie Wannenburg.

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Wicus Blaauw.

Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 JC Kritzinger, 18 Anton van Zyl, 19 Pieter Louw, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Willem de Waal, 22 Tim Whitehead.

Referee: Craig Joubert (SA). Kick-off: 5 pm.

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