Captain Steven Kitshoff says the Stormers will be doing their talking on the field on Saturday when they square up against the Vodacom Bulls in Cape Town. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Stormers will host the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium in a north-south derby which could have immense ramifications for both teams in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
As it stands, the Stormers (43 points), Bulls (42) and Sharks (41) are, respectively, sixth, seventh and eighth on the table with Edinburgh fifth (44). A loss for any of the three SA front-runners will take the pressure off the top five.
This incentive is perhaps matched by the historic rivalry that exists between the Stormers and Bulls, who are evenly matched in the past 10 derbies.
Bulls head coach Jake White has never been averse to indulging in a few pre-game barbs in the media. Flank Cyle Brink, echoing White, this week admitted the Bulls want vengeance for their last-gasp loss to the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld in January, which he said still left a “sour taste” in their mouths.
However, Kitshoff was in no mood to play mind games when asked about Brink’s comments during a news conference on Wednesday.
“We spoke about it in the week and we don’t want to play too many mind games. It’s all about pitching up on Saturday,” Kitshoff said. “If the punches get thrown on Saturday, it becomes a different story. You can talk as much as you want in the week, but it’s all about how we play on Saturday.”
The experienced Springbok loosehead will be lining up alongside fellow Bok Scarra Ntubeni and up-and-coming tighthead Neethling Fouche in a powerful scrum, which has served the Stormers well over the past few weeks.
While the Bulls struggled in this department towards the end of last year, they have been boosted by the return to fitness of tighthead prop Mornay Smith and did very well in the bonus-point win over Irish side Ulster last weekend.
Kitshoff said the Stormers have noted not only how much the Bulls have improved in their scrum, but also the expansiveness that White’s team is playing with at the moment.
“The Bulls, true to how they have been playing over the years, have a good, dominant pack. I think their scrums actually provide a good set-piece for them, in the way they launch their plays. They did milk a couple of penalties against Ulster last weekend and we’ve had a look at that.
“I think it’s going to be tough, especially if both packs are full strength. It’s going to be a proper battle when it comes to scrum time.
“They have a very good pack and play a lot of their rugby on momentum. They look for a lot of their dominance from scrumming and mauling and how they carry in their pods of forwards. It’s definitely going to be a tough game. We realise that and have looked in depth at how we can stop their momentum.
“It’s going to be a big forwards game but, in the same breath, the Bulls have got that expansive game and unbelievable X factor. Overall, it will be two teams going toe to toe at Cape Town Stadium.”
Stormers head coach John Dobson added that he is under no illusion as to the importance of Saturday’s game.
“There are lots of elements to it. One of them, obviously, is the traditional rivalry. Secondly, it affects the conference and qualification for Europe, whether that’s going to be the top seven,” Dobson said.
“I think it’s also important for rugby. The Bulls did really well to get an occasion last week and I think it’s important for rugby that we sort of get that culture back. This game is a marvelous opportunity for that. It’s a big one.”
Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images