Stormers to edge Cape clash

Home ground advantage and a superior defence should ensure the Stormers beat the Bulls, writes Keo in his Business Day column.

The Bulls got a hometown decision to beat the Crusaders with the last movement of the game, but there was nothing dubious about the Sharks victory against the play-off chasing Stormers in Durban.

The Stormers were physically beaten up and overwhelmed in the collisions. The Sharks were never going to be easy for the Stormers, but few could have expected them to be this tough. Their form this season did not make allowance for victory, but the lesson again was that when two South African teams meet form and the league position is meaningless.

The Stormers, physically superior in every one of their matches this season, were second best throughout and their supporters need to be big enough to admit it and hope for an improved performance against the Bulls at Newlands this weekend.

Defeat could see the Stormers miss the play-offs; victory could give them a home semi-final; such are the margins in this wonderful competition.

The 2010 Super 14 season has been one of the best in the last decade. With one round to play only the Bulls are guaranteed a play-off. It is this uncertainty that makes for a brilliant competition, and for the most the intensity in the top tier clashes has matched the hype.

The performances of the bottom six unfortunately can’t be spoken of with similar enthusiasm and the quality of rugby in the Lions defeat to the Blues and the Cheetahs victory against the Western Force could not be compared to what was produced at Loftus and in Durban.

The Bulls escape against the Crusaders was one of the better matches of the season, but the ending could not have been crueler for the visitors. The Bulls did not deserve to win this one, but then this could have been said of so many of the last minute victories the Crusaders achieved during their seven-year domination of the tournament.

But it was the manner of victory that irks because the last pass was clearly forward and when you beat a team like the Crusaders you want to do it because you are better on the night and not because the hometown officials ruled in your favour.

Crusaders captain Richie McCaw had every reason to fume during the game and afterwards. I’ve seen some visiting teams done a dirty in South Africa, but the bias in this match was particularly embarrassing.

The Crusaders can still qualify if they beat the Brumbies and they may even be back at the highveld for a semi-final against the Bulls, where playing in Soweto will not be as daunting as a visit to Fortress Loftus. The Crusaders and Hurricanes are two teams that have always troubled the Bulls and the Canes looked particularly dangerous in their demolition of the Reds. Could they have finally run into form at the right time? The Bulls will be hoping to avoid them in the semi-finals.

The Bulls, so clinical for most of the campaign, have shown vulnerability and that is why the Stormers will beat them at Newlands. The Stormers will match the Bulls for physicality, Andries Bekker is the only lock in the competition who can trouble Victor Matfield and the Stormers defensive structure is superior to the Bulls.

It will be close, but home ground advantage will be decisive, as will the do or die situation of the Stormers. Lose and their campaign is finished. Win and they will have a home semi-final and potentially a home final if the Bulls get exposed in Soweto.

It makes for a fascinating final weekend and had the Bulls and Stormers won there would have been every chance the respective sides would have played under strength teams for a match that would have little outcome on the league standings. Not anymore. And that’s a great thing as the game was sold out three weeks ago.

The Sharks win underlined how they have underachieved yet again. I have said it previously that the Sharks are to rugby what Real Madrid is to the European Cup, and for a franchise with as big a chequebook it is unacceptable.

There is however no consequence to failure in South African rugby. It is why the Sharks survive on the hype and the Lions continue to flop because they are guaranteed participation in Super rugby, regardless of performance.

The meek surrender against the disjointed and erratic Blues was disgusting but fortunately the Lions are not representative of the strength in South Africa. They represent everything that is wrong with the game in this country, while the Bulls and Stormers are examples of what should be the norm and not the exception.