It may appear a mismatch on paper, but Saturday’s clash between the Bulls and the Stormers at Newlands will provide a crucial test of the Cape side’s depth ahead of the extended Super 14.
Coach Kobus van der Merwe will be able to deflect the result on the basis of the fact that he has named his second side. What he won’t tell the media is that a calamity on Saturday could be a foreshadowing of hovering storm clouds.
The Stormers first XV is competitive, strong even. The back-up is the weakness, and a match against a strong Bulls side will illustrate how big the chasm is between Van der Merwe’s first choice players and his replacements.
With the campaign ahead both gruelling and intense, injuries and loss of form are a certainty, and thus it is the side whose quality players number 26 and not 15 that traditionally have dominated this competition.
Saturday will go a long way to determining whether the Stormers can expect a season of survival or struggle, as Van der Merwe finds out first-hand whether he can rely on the likes of Gerrie Britz, Attie Winter, Justin Melck and Naas Olivier should the frontline fold.
For the Bulls, the most obvious concern is the threat of injury. With both Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez already on the sidelines, momentum could be severely disrupted by the loss of other key players. Meyer will cherish a victory, but a clean bill of health from Dr Tommy Smook at fulltime will be desired even more.
CATS vs SPEARS – East London
In other warm-ups. the Cats take on the Southern Spares in East London. Rassie Erasmus’ side received a timely 48-0 boost in confidence last weekend, and Frans Ludeke’s team should do similarly. Ludeke will experiment, which should allow Peter de Villiers’ side the opportunity to escape with a less emphatic drubbing.
CHEETAHS vs FORCE – Perth
Erasmus’ Cheetahs roadshow has moved on to Perth, where John Mitchell has named a young and inexperienced squad to contend with the South African newcomers. The opportunity to record a win overseas is all too apparent, and defeat would represent a major disappointment in Erasmus’ eyes. His team is good enough and should consign the Force to defeat in their first clash with South African opposition. A useful precadent should be set.
SHARKS vs LEOPARDS – Durban
Tonight’s action sees two Sharks XVs take on the visiting teams from Potch. Dick Muir’s resources are already stretched and the games serve as gentle run-outs for the squad. Percy Montgomery gets valuable game-time at 10, but little else can be deduced from the matches.
The build-up to the Super 14 over in Aus continues as the Brumbies take on the Waratahs in Wollongong on Saturday. Traditionally pre-season form counts for jack down under, so little will be read into the result here.
In other action the Crusaders take on the Highlanders in Queenstown (no, not in the Eastern Cape), and the rubble Reds battle the Blues in Brisbane.