Super 14 Preview: Final

Jon Cardinelli and Ryan Vrede analyse the key match-ups and pick the winner of the Super 14 title.

KEO.CO.ZA SUCCESS RATE
Vrede: 65/93 (70%)
JC: 67/93 (72%)
Semi-finals
Vrede: 2/2
JC: 2/2
Round 14
Vrede: 7/7
JC: 6/7
Round 13
Vrede: 4/7
JC: 5/7
Round 12
Vrede: 4/7
JC: 4/7
Round 11
Vrede: 4/7
JC: 4/7
Round 10
Vrede: 4/6
JC: 4/6
Round 9
Vrede: 4/6
JC: 5/6
Round 8
Vrede: 3/6
JC: 3/6
Round 7
Vrede: 4/6
JC: 5/6
Round 6
Vrede: 4/6
JC: 5/6
Round 5
Vrede: 6/6
JC: 6/6
Round 4
Vrede: 4/6
JC: 4/6
Round 3
Vrede: 4/7
JC: 4/7
Round 2
Vrede: 6/7
JC: 5/7
Round 1
Vrede: 5/7
JC: 5/7

BULLS vs STORMERS, SOWETO, SATURDAY 17:05

WHY THE BULLS WILL WIN:
VREDE’S CALL: I’d be lying if I said I make this prediction with complete certainty, simply because the teams are so evenly matched across all facets of play. Even the Bulls’ traditional dominance at the lineout cannot be assumed because in Andries Bekker the Stormers have a man capable of countering the maestro, Victor Matfield. However, they may have an edge at scrum time, based on the evidence of the Stormers wobbling against the Waratahs last week. That attacking platform will be crucial to their ability to execute their game plan – which will vary from the set piece depending on their field position (punt for territory in their half and run it in the Stormers’).

The battle for ascendancy at the collisions and breakdown will be a supremely entertaining contest starring the outstanding loose forwards of the Super 14. This, I feel, will be the decisive facet of play and whoever gains an edge here will have the inside lane to the title.

Both teams are equally adept at shifting between a pragmatic and expansive approach. The Bulls have mastered the former, and while they flipped the script on the Chiefs in the final last year by running them ragged, they are likely to bombard the Stormers’ back three with up-and-unders, testing their nerve. The Crusaders failed that test horribly last week and were duly punished, and the Stormers will have to display skill and a steely resolve in their poaching from the Soweto sky.

So, with little to choose between the sides technically, experience will separate them and it’s in this regard where the Bulls comprehensively trump their southern rivals. Certainly the Stormers possess some seasoned men in Schalk Burger, Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana, but they simply cannot match the Bulls for collective experience in big finals. Even youngsters like Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann and Francois Hougaard are well versed in the mental and physical demands of finals rugby.

Add to that that the benefits of the Bulls’ week-long break in the last round of the Super 14 will tell in the final quarter when the Stormers players’ lungs are being crushed by altitude, and the odds are that the Bulls will capture successive Super Rugby titles.

JC’S CALL: Most teams lose to this Bulls’ side before kickoff. They have an aura about them, an aura created not only through their Super Rugby success, but the success of their Springboks. They won’t be playing at Loftus Versfeld but these players know how to manipulate the affects of altitude, and have the game plan to make full use of the rarefied air. The Bulls have the superior kicking game with Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn the key in this regard, and if the Stormers allow the Bulls’ big men to get on the front foot, the Bok halfback pairing will win the battle for territory and thus set up more attacking opportunities.

Wynand Olivier is going to play a crucial role in midfield, as his powerful carries have lent the Bully Boys great momentum from the second phase. Watch for that freak of nature (“how many farm animals did they have to @#*! to breed that thing”) Pierre Spies hanging wide in order to exploit mismatches off the third or fourth phase when the defence is somewhat depleted.

The back three of the Bulls is more solid than spectacular with Zane Kirchner certain to provide support in the kicking department. Gerhard van den Heever will be difficult to suppress, but a lot depends on the quality of ball he receives and whether the Bulls can indeed win the battle at the collisions.

HOW THE STORMERS COULD CAUSE AN UPSET:
VREDE’S CALL: The Stormers’ success has been built on defensive excellence and if they carry their form into the final they will give themselves a massive chance at sending the Bulls’ disciples in the stands (and the media box) home crushed. Their ability to stifle the Bulls’ momentum by fronting physically in the collisions will have a massive bearing on the flow and tempo of the match – deny the Bulls continuity through the phases or slow the service to their gifted halfback pair and the Stormers will profit.

They have the firepower in their backline to take full advantage of turnover ball. Furthermore, while the Bulls were excellent in repelling the Crusaders in the semi-final, the Bulls have displayed defensive vulnerability at stages in the tournament, most notably in early on where ordinary defensive performances were plastered over by attacking brilliance.

No side was able to capitalise, but if the Stormers blend their defensive solidity with clinical finishing on attack, they could cause an upset. Anyone taking a punt on Bryan Habana scoring the match-winning try?

JC’S CALL: Habana was sent to the sin bin in the league match against the Bulls, but this is the only time in 14 matches where the Stormers have conceded a yellow card. Their brilliant defensive system has been complemented by their impressive discipline and astute decision making, and this could be what earns them their first title.

Their loose trio boast a better balance than that of the Bulls with Burger and Duane Vermeulen delivering the necessary grit and Francois Louw obliging with the crafty breakdown steals. Their tight five has impressed in the set-pieces, but it’s their work around the park on both attack and defence that should have the Bulls worried.

The Bulls can forget about depleting the Stormers’ defence through traditional means, and when the Cape boys receive possession, their clinical approach could result in penalties. Peter Grant doesn’t boast the greatest line kicking game, but his goal-kicking this season has been better than that of Bulls sharpshooter Morne Steyn. Steyn has the head for the big occasion, but if the Stormers can dish out their trademark brutality at the collisions, a small victory that will allow their limited but accurate kickers to win field position, Grant must make the opportunities count.

The Stormers must be wary of running from their own half, as the Bulls punished the clueless Crusaders from turnovers in the semi-final. Defence and discipline will allow the Cape side to win their first trophy since 2001.

It’s going to be one of the best finals in the tournament’s history just because it’s played between two local teams that boast a fierce rivalry. The Stormers have what it takes to ensure their magical season enjoys the fairytale ending, but they’re going to have to scrap for 80 minutes to deny the Bulls a third title. For those who favour an arm-wrestle over the basketball farce seen in the Lions-Chiefs game in round two, this will be one to remember.

VREDE’S CALL: Bulls by 10
JC’S CALL: Stormers by 3

Bulls - 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Bees Roux, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Derick Kuün, 20 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 21 Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 22 Pedrie Wannenburg.

Stormers – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Subs: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 JC Kritzinger, 18 Anton van Zyl, 19 Pieter Louw, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Willem de Waal, 22 Tim Whitehead.

By Jon Cardinelli and Ryan Vrede