It doesn’t get big­ger than Storm­ers v Bulls

No­bodby will do any­body favours in a North-south derby

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

FOR­GET the dif­fer­ent log po­si­tions and markedly con­trast­ing out­look and over­all aims of the two teams con­test­ing tonight’s big Su­per Rugby derby at New­lands.

This match does mat­ter, and it mat­ters as much to the Storm­ers as it does to the Bulls.

That might sound lu­di­crous if you con­sider the Storm­ers are def­i­nitely play­ing their last match to­day while the Bulls will be in ac­tion in a semi-fi­nal a fort­night from now.

Af­ter all, we keep hear­ing the Storm­ers are play­ing for pride, which nor­mally is an­other way of say­ing that they have noth­ing to lose and also not a heck of a lot to aim at.

But this is the Storm­ers against the Bulls, a tra­di­tional clash be­tween south and north. It’s one of the big oc­ca­sions of the rugby sea­son, and even though the dou­ble round of der­bies may have taken a smidgen of the nov­elty away as the two sides have al­ready met once this sea­son al­ready, it stands on its own, com­pletely sep­a­rate from Su­per Rugby.

See­ing their team win will mean a lot for the New­lands faith­ful, just as the Lof­tus fans would have been will­ing their team to win were the roles of to­day re­versed and it was the Cape team go­ing to Pre­to­ria as ti­tle con­tenders and the hosts lin­ing up as the al­ready van­quished.

It’s why there will be a full house to­day, and it’s also why the Storm­ers don’t have to feel em­bar­rassed, as they have some­times ap­peared to be at press con­fer­ences this week, that they have an in­tense de­sire to win.

Jean de Vil­liers knows he and his team owe the fans some­thing af­ter the dis­ap­point­ing way the sea­son has turned out, and what bet­ter way to make up for the heart-ache, most of which has ad­mit­tedly come dur­ing this cam­paign away from New­lands, by beat­ing the old en­emy?

That such a re­sult may pre­vent the Bulls from fin­ish­ing at the top of the log, and rob­bing South Africa of a pos­si­ble home fi­nal, is hardly the Storm­ers’ fault.

It’s just the way the com­pe­ti­tion works, it’s just the way sport works. And sport is made spe­cial by long­stand­ing and pas­sion­ate ri­val­ries that cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion and draw in the sup­port­ers as much as they do the par­tic­i­pants.

Liver­pool sup­port­ers should not feel ag­grieved at this men­tion – for I am one of them – but the English football team has long since slipped from its for­mer po­si­tion of em­i­nence that it en­joyed when the big ri­valry with Manch­ester United started.

But that their team is in­vari­ably lag­ging far be­hind their big­gest op­po­nents on the log has never stopped fans from go­ing to An­field des­per­ate to win the big game of the sea­son.

And the fact that United will prob­a­bly go on to win the league while Liver­pool will, at best, maybe just make it into the Cham­pi­ons League, doesn’t stop them from en­joy­ing the brag­ging rights af­ter­wards.

It will be like that to­day if the Storm­ers win.

So who will win this clas­sic con­fronta­tion be­tween the old ri­vals? The big­gest thing in favour of the Bulls is what they’re play­ing for.

A win means they don’t have to fly in the play-off phases. And they have mo­men­tum, af­ter not hav­ing lost since they were over­seas in March.

The Bulls are de­serv­ing of the sta­tus of lo­cal cham­pi­ons, which they are af­ter win­ning the con­fer­ence. For­get the Cur­rie Cup, for that is now played mostly with un­der­strength teams. Su­per Rugby is the real deal, for to make it to the con­fer­ence ti­tle, you have to come top of a league that is de­cided over 16 matches against teams play­ing at full strength.

But while the Bulls have been show­ing their cham­pi­onship qual­i­ties, and proved their BMT in win­ning a close one they should re­ally have lost against the Sharks last week, they have started to creak just a bit in re­cent weeks as the in­jury plague that has both­ered the Storm­ers fi­nally hits them.

They have also lost li­ne­out king­pin Juan­dre Kruger to an early de­par­ture for France.

The Storm­ers, as they line up, don’t look any­thing like the team they would be at full-strength, but they’ve built up a good vein of form over the past few weeks and their re­cent record of four con­sec­u­tive wins puts them up among the form teams in the com­pe­ti­tion. They’ve only lost once at New­lands this sea­son, to the Cru­saders.

They’ve seen off, among oth­ers, the two New Zealand and Aus­tralian con­fer­ence win­ners, the Chiefs and Brumbies re­spec­tively, and if they beat the Bulls to­day, they will make it a tri­fecta.

That is both an in­di­ca­tion of their in­con­sis­tency this sea­son and their ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and it means they def­i­nitely have a chance of win­ning.

The Storm­ers scrum has come good over the past two months and will be look­ing to ex­ploit po­ten­tial chinks in a Bulls unit that has strug­gled from time to time, but the dif­fer­ence be­tween the teams could well be Bulls fly­half Morné Steyn.

Young Gary van Aswe­gen is a ca­pa­ble player but hasn’t played a high in­ten­sity game for a while.

The Bulls would have learned lessons last week, when they con­ceded too many penal­ties at the break­down, and op­por­tu­ni­ties for the Storm­ers may be few and far be­tween.

There will be a pres­sure on Van Aswe­gen to take them when they come, for Steyn is un­likely to miss.

GIV­ING NOTH­ING AWAY: Gary van Aswe­gen and his Storm­ers’ col­leagues won’t be do­ing the Bulls any favours to­day at New­lands.

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