The Stormers will beat the Bulls in Saturday’s Super 14 final, writes Keo in his weekly Business Day newspaper column.
The Bulls were flamboyant and the Stormers pragmatic, yet both were emphatic winners against Australasian opposition in a super Saturday for South African rugby.
The Bulls were aided by yet another suicidal approach from the reckless and fumbling Crusaders who played with hope but no conviction and whose players and coach talked a far bigger game than they were capable of producing at the Orlando Stadium.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder told the world his team had the blueprint to beat the Bulls. Clearly they don’t.
South African rugby has never been healthier and New Zealand’s national game has never been this crocked.
The Crusaders were given a chance of beating the Bulls because of the reputation of having won seven finals and because of the potential of Dan Carter finding the form that made him the game’s best flyhalf a few years ago.
Carter this season can’t get out of neutral and the Crusaders are rich in tradition but starved of all-round experience. They never had a chance in Orlando as the clinical Bulls again embarrassed a New Zealand team who believed they could run the hosts ragged.
The Bulls are a damn good side. They play the complete game and have the players good enough to adapt their pattern mid-match. The Crusaders, one- dimensional, predictable and too lateral in their attack, lacked the quality of the Bulls and the rugby intelligence of the South Africans.
The Kiwis were clueless and not good enough to win, and even if they had the capability it would have taken a monumental effort to overcome the travel demands of flying halfway across the world five days before a play-off match. In the 15-year history of the tournament only one team has crossed the Indian Ocean for a play-off and won, and the Highlanders’ 33-18 victory against the Stormers in 1999 had as much to do with the Stormers’ threat to strike over bonus incentives on the morning of the match.
The tournament organisers should consider a fortnight break between the final league match and the play-offs. It would give us more of a contest than we got in Soweto and Cape Town, where the only scoring the visitors did was on their Voyager Miles account.
The Bulls and Stormers this season are proof that South African rugby has an intellect to match its imposing physicality. The two best sides in the competition play the final on Saturday and both are deserving of every accolade.
It will be a fascinating final because of the contrasting styles. Ironically, it is the Bulls playing the more pleasing rugby, but championships aren’t often won with performances that are easy on the eye.
The Stormers this year are the best defensive team in the history of the competition. In 14 matches they have conceded 17 tries and the Waratahs in 160 minutes of rugby at Newlands this year could only manage 12 points through kicks. This is a Waratahs team that in their 12 other competition outings scored 45 tries, but at Newlands on Saturday their attackers took a physical beating.
Defence invariably wins finals when two teams measure up in ability and the adage that great defence always beats great attack will apply to the final.
The Stormers will win because they have the pack to match the Bulls physically, the players to stand strong in the confrontations and they have the Bulls talisman of the past five years, Bryan Habana, on their side this time.
Stormers lock Andries Bekker’s showdown with Victor Matfield is boxing’s equivalent of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, and Duane Vermeulen’s collision with Pierre Spies will be equally compelling.
There is a Super Rugby title to be won on Saturday but there is also the Test team to be selected to play Six Nations champions France in Cape Town on June 12. The rewards cannot be bigger. Bok coach Peter de Villiers has been innovative with the team to play Wales in a one-off Test in Cardiff in a fortnight. He has rewarded the form of six overseas-based players, with Toulon captain Joe van Niekerk’s selection the most pleasing.
Chiliboy Ralepelle and Ricky Januarie are the contentious picks because the former has hardly played and the latter, when he has played, has been ordinary. But they are two players who have always featured in De Villiers’s selection, so they aren’t shock selections.
The midfield selection of Butch James and Jean de Villiers has been made to counter the very physical Welsh centres and it says everything about the depth in South African rugby that De Villiers can select the team he has while not considering 40-odd Stormers and Bulls.
No other country’s coach could pick a competitive Test team and not consider the bulk of the two Super 14 finalists.