MARK KEOHANE is predicting a Bulls winning start to Super Rugby this season.
The supporter in me will always want a Bulls win, but the reporter in me says it will be a Bulls win when South Africa’s Super Rugby starts at Loftus on Friday evening.
The Stormers have been consistent over the last three years. Defensively no team has been better in the competition, but the attack has never matched the defence and in the last two seasons they’ve twice lost at home in a semi-final against two teams who beat them with superior attack.
Western Province, in the Currie Cup, played with greater enterprise and the hope among Stormers supporters is this will be translated to Super Rugby form. I am not as easily convinced and the greater experience of the Bulls, strengthened by the availability of all their Currie Cup players, gives them the edge in a home match.
The Stormers are confident they have the formula needed to beat the Bulls. They did so in 2012 and their players are taking a lot from demolishing the Bulls at Newlands in the Currie Cup. We will see again on Friday night that Currie Cup is not Super Rugby, just like Super Rugby is not Test rugby.
The Bulls have 13 players with Test experience and they have Victor Matfield’s expertise among the coaching staff. Matfield’s contribution and influence is going to be massive.
Morne Steyn’s boot is also going to be inspirational to a winning start.
I have the Bulls to win by 10-12 points, but I don’t have them finishing in the top four in my pre-season predictions. They will struggle on the road. I have the Sharks to win the South African Conference from the Stormers and the Sharks to finish top of the overall table and win the tournament. I also have the Stormers to finish in the overall top four.
On Friday night though the Cape Town-based franchise will only know pain.
Defeat won’t be a train smash as the nature of this competition means a team can lose up to six matches and still qualify for a top six play-off finish.
Those teams wanting to finish in the top two or head up their Conference can’t afford to lose more than four matches.
The Sharks will comfortably beat the Cheetahs in their opener and I have the Kings to start with a win against the Force in Port Elizabeth. If they can do that they will have already had a successful season.
For the anti Kings brigade, who now double as a pro Lions bunch of cheerleaders, please be reminded the Lions went 17 matches without a win in the competition and since splitting from the Cats to be the Lions again won 15 out of 90 Super Rugby matches.
The Kings, who will do well to win more than one game, won’t be a bigger embarrassment than the Lions so often were. For those who think they will be just think of those 17 successive Lions defeats.
Until the Kings lose 18 in succession they can’t be a greater liability or embarrassment.
And by the looks of things the Kings won’t be in Super Rugby in 2014 to be in a position to lose 18 in succession.
The Force are the weakest of the Australian teams so Saturday’s historic opener does represent the best chance for Luke Watson’s pioneers to actually win.