Duane Vermeulen oversees Bulls training. Photo: Supplied
Duane Vermeulen oversees Bulls training. Photo: Supplied
After 18 rounds of action and two weekends of play-offs, theUnited Rugby Championship season comes down to a Cape Town clash between South African rivals the Stormers and the Bulls.
The Stormers earned the right to host the Grand Final as the higher-ranked of the two sides in the URC table, having finished second to the Bulls’ fourth.
John Dobson’s side are here thanks to a battling victory over Edinburgh in the Final Eight and a dramatic late semi-final triumph over Ulster, when Manie Libbok’s conversion with the last action of the match was the difference in a 17-15 victory.
The Bulls, meanwhile, overcame the Sharks with an equally late Chris Smith drop-goal before stunning tournament favourites Leinster with a 27-26 victory in the Final Four.
URC Top Try Scorer Leolin Zas is out of the Stormers team due to injury and is replaced by Sergeal Petersen. Deon Fourie makes his 100th appearance.
The Bulls, meanwhile, bring Kurt-Lee Arendse back into the starting XV as their only change, with David Kriel dropping to the bench.
Interestingly, ahead of the URC final, Bulls coach Jake White revealed how they had roped in Springbok superstar Duane Vermeulen – who is currently recovering from injury – in order to provide some key advice ahead of the title decider.
“Duane actually [had] lunch with me,” said White. “He also [accompanied] us to the captain’s run specifically because I wanted to pick his brain on how Ulster were so successful in that regard.
“I’m going to show him our lineouts. I have everything here on my screen that I want to show him. I want to ask him what their plan would’ve been in this clip and that one. Also, why was something done in a certain way on a relevant occasion.
“I’m covering that base too… Our coaches have done enough homework with scenario planning on all the factors that might apply to this game,” added White.
“It’s why we’ve brought in Duane. He [talked] to us about what Ulster felt last week. It’s an incredible extra bit of info that you can get, and I am looking forward to that.
“When you take that into account with how this group has grown and applied all their learnings from the campaign, we take incredible confidence into the match.”
The Stormers have won their last 10 matches since losing 19-17 to Connacht in Galway on February 26.
The Bulls, meanwhile, have lost only one of their last 11 URC fixtures – by the same scoreline to the Stormers in Cape Town on April 9.
That fixture forms part of a five-match unbeaten run in matches against South African opposition for the Stormers, whose only home defeat this season was a 37-19 reverse against the Emirates Lions in December.
Stormers wing Zas collected the Top Try Scorer prize during the URC Awards but Bulls back-row Marcell Coetzee pulled level with him on 11 tries by touching down in the Final Four victory over Leinster.
“It’s good for South African rugby. We had a team meeting and Deon (Fourie) spoke on the field about the Stormers-Bulls rivalry and the passion. It is definitely different among our players.
“To have the passion that’s coming out this week – I am sure it’s also happening in Pretoria.
“It’s great for SA rivalries and we must not wash them down to become like any other game. From the players themselves, Steven (Kitshoff) said it himself, Stormers v Bulls is the cherry on top.
“I was asked whether this is the biggest game of my coaching career and it is. For Jake White, it probably isn’t. He has coached and won a World Cup and has earned enormous respect.
“For me, it’s almost a privilege to coach against someone of his stature. He has coached all over the world.
“My mission is probably a little different. I want to coach Western Province and the Stormers. I grew up here, to me this is not a coaching contract.
“I haven’t travelled the world or got the track record he has. He has coached in bigger games than this but, for me, this means the world.”
“We’re at a stage in time where there is not much you can do.
“There is one game left in the URC, so we just need to try to replicate the performance we had against Leinster last week.
“The Stormers are the only South African team we haven’t got a ‘W’ against, so obviously we go with the mindset of wanting to win.
“Like Coach Jake (White) said, you enter competitions to win.
“It doesn’t matter how we start or whatever happens, we just need to make sure that by the time the ref blows the final whistle at the 80th minute that we are a point ahead of them.
“When we started this competition, I don’t think anyone gave us a chance. Especially when we lost our first game against Leinster and we went on to lose a couple more games.
“But as time went on, the bond and the relationships got stronger within the squad and the belief started growing.
“We found ourselves in a situation where every game was basically like a play-off game.”
Stormers: Warrick Gelant, Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel, Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, Manie Libbok, Herschel Jantjies; Steven Kitshoff (captain), JJ Kotze, Frans Malherbe, Salmaan Moerat, Marvin Orie, Deon Fourie, Hacjivah Dayimani, Evan Roos.
Replacements: Andre-Hugo Venter, Brok Harris, Neethling Fouche, Ernst van Rhyn, Junior Pokomela, Nama Xaba, Godlen Masimla, Sacha Mngomezulu.
Bulls: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, Cornal Hendricks, Harold Vorster, Madosh Tambwe, Chris Smith, Zak Burger; Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar, Mornay Smith, Walt Steenkamp, Ruan Nortje, Marcell Coetzee (captain), Arno Botha, Elrigh Louw.
Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Simphiwe Matanzima, Robert Hunt, Janko Swanepoel, WJ Steenkamp; Embrose Papier, Morne Steyn, David Kriel.