Cape Town – You wouldn’t think it if you looked at the Bulls’ selection policy over the last two weeks, but forwards coach Russell Winter is adamant that the Pretoria side have “moved on” from last season’s United Rugby Championship (URC) final.
The Bulls lost 18-13 to the Stormers at Cape Town Stadium in June, which was their third consecutive defeat to their great rivals in the competition.
It seems like Bulls boss Jake White has been plotting his revenge since then and made the big call to rest his first-choice players for the opening two rounds of the more prestigious Champions Cup against Lyon and Exeter Chiefs.
They beat the French club 42-36 at Loftus Versfeld and went down 44-14 at Sandy Park in England, but now it’s the big one against John Dobson’s side at Cape Town Stadium tomorrow (7.15pm kick-off).
“I honestly can say we have moved on from the final. We were bitterly disappointed that we lost that game, but at the same time, the Stormers were deserved winners,” Winter said.
“We’ve moved on since then, and whenever you play a local derby, it’s another chance for strength-versus-strength, and these north-south derbies are massive. It’s a game where there is a lot of history and tradition. So, when I speak about scars, it’s going to be literal and figurative.
“It’s going to be brutal as the guys are really going to get stuck into each other, and we will have hurting bodies come Saturday-Sunday. It’s games that you don’t want to lose, and you can be really proud of a good performance.”
White’s decision to rest his best players for the Stormers clash has been criticised in some quarters, but apart from risk, having to play two days before Christmas is another unusual scenario that the Bulls have to deal with.
“It’s one of those things … It’s not a gamble, but everybody plans a certain way, and the proof will be in how we perform on Friday night – whether the plan worked or not,” Winter said.
“It was massively important to make sure that rotation does happen and players get a chance to recover, because there are so many games – there are still 32 games left, and it feels like we should be midway through the season.
“It’s the festive season and the first time we’ve been through this, playing over the Christmas period. Last season we had more time off because we weren’t in the Champions Cup.
“So, this is a massively challenging time, and each union has a plan accordingly – and we just have to see which plan works. Everybody backs the plan. I’m confident that we will put our best foot forward, and I’m sure the Stormers will do as well. Maybe some other approach works better, but we are very confident in what we are doing.
Laser Focus 🎯
All eyes on the North South Derby in Cape Town this Friday 💪
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) December 21, 2022
“Hopefully the rest helps the boys, but hopefully they’re not rusty from having the two weeks off. But it doesn’t even feel like the guys had a break as they were continuously training through that period, and just trying to manage their bodies and get fit players on the field.”
Good news for Bulls fans is that hardrunning flank Cyle Brink has been passed fit to play, although utility back David Kriel is unlikely to be ready in time.
Brink’s presence is vital in adding that physical edge to the pack, but Winter expects the set-pieces to be the major decisive factor tomorrow night, where Springbok locks Ruan Nortje and Marvin Orie will fight for line-out possession, and the Bulls front row of Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar and Mornay Smith will face a stern scrum examination from the all-Bok Stormers unit of Steven Kitshoff, Joseph Dweba and Frans Malherbe.
“The match-ups in the forward pack are mouth-watering. Everybody is offering like-forlike comparisons,” he said.
“I think the line-out is definitely going to be one of the areas that is going to be really competitive on Friday night, as well as the scrums. Marvin does a lot of homework on the opposition line-out.
“It goes without saying that Kitshoff and Malherbe have been outstanding throughout the last couple of years for the Stormers and their country.
“I know the Stormers have a lot of rhythm in their pack, and our pack is doing well as well, so it’s going to be a good match-up on Friday.”