Battle on for Bok places

Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Ahead of last weekend's Sharks v Bulls derby there was much talk about Morne Steyn’s duel with Pat Lambie at flyhalf.

Steyn showed the tremendous big match temperament he possesses. Owing to his greater experience and ability to run a game, Steyn edged the individual encounter.

With the Springboks’ June Test fixtures fast approaching; there is no question that players are fighting for places in the side. Our local derbies are already highly combative but this propels them to an even greater level of intensity.

A player who has caught the eye this season is Lappies Labuschagne. If selected for the June Tests, he wouldn’t be a complete bolter in the Bok side because he’s had a great season with the Cheetahs. He has an unbelievable work-rate, his tackle count is one of the highest in the competition and he is a fine lineout forward.

From a Southern Kings’ perspective, it’s great for Demetri Catrakilis to have participated in the Boks’ second training camp. I believe it’s a tribute to the team and how well we have performed in our maiden campaign. What has most impressed me about Demetri this season is his temperament. He is a very calm and composed character and handles pressure well.

Newlands represents another acid test for our side and the players are aware they need to lift their performances against the Stormers on Saturday (kick-off is at 17:05).

From a personal standpoint, it’s great to be returning to the famous old ground. I have many fond memories from my time coaching in the Western Cape.

From a Super Rugby perspective, the 1999 season stands out. In those days, the Stormers were known as the 'Men in Black' and Bobby Skinstad skippered the side. I remember us packing the stadium to capacity six weeks in a row.

The current Stormers side are the best defensive unit in the competition, are solid at set-piece and have a number of game-breakers in their backline. While they may be nursing injuries to key players, I believe that a thread of experience still runs through their side.

I don’t feel we performed to our true capability against the Cheetahs this past weekend and thus need to take a step up against the Stormers.

While Demetri’s duel with Elton Jantjies will be an interesting one, it’s essential to first gain parity upfront before your halfbacks can exert their influence on the game. If we play to our potential, I believe we have the capability of matching the Stormers upfront.

That said, the Stormers have to start as clear favourites. They are one of SA’s top franchises, while we are only experiencing our first season of Super Rugby. We have, however, made tremendous strides this season and have proved highly competitive in most of our matches.

Turning to the second South African derby of Round 16, the Cheetahs host the Bulls in a top-of-the-table clash.

The Cheetahs are always a difficult side to oppose at home. Naka Drotske’s men are playing with tremendous confidence and maturity. Most notably, the Bloemfontein outfit have shored up their defence this season.

The Cheetahs have always been a side that likes to keep the ball in hand and play a tempo game, but the Bulls themselves have shown they are also capable of firing on all cylinders on attack this season.

The Bulls are riding a wave of momentum and victory for them would certainly sew up the South African Conference. In fact, if the Bulls are aiming for a home-semi-final, a five-point win will be crucial for them this Saturday.

The Cheetahs have a good scrum and while I agree the Bulls weren’t at their best in that department against the Sharks, I believe they can still hold their own in the set-pieces. I expect the Bulls to prevail, but by no more than seven points.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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