Even in this ruthlessly professional age, South African rugby can still bank on a bit of old-fashioned provincialism when it comes to Stormers-Bulls derbies.
Bulls skipper Handre Pollard summed it up perfectly earlier this week when he said: “When the Stormers and Bulls play each other, it doesn’t matter where they come from or past results, everything goes out the window. It’s a big, emotional game.”
As the two teams do battle again at Newlands on Saturday, here are three key talking points.
It’s just a ‘normal’ game for Kolisi and Vermeulen
You can bet top dollar some quarters of the Newlands crowd will try to make things awkward for Duane Vermeulen as part of their frustration that the evergreen Springbok eighthman didn’t sign for their team again this season.
It’s now well known that the administrative chaos at WP played a role in the 32-year-old rather opting for Loftus as part of his national contract, but for some it still feels wrong after he spent seven years in the Cape.
Yet Stormers and Bok captain Siya Kolisi maintains that those type of sideshows will stay confined to the fans – the players have far more serious matters to worry about.
“I know Duane and he is the same week in and week out,” he said.
“That kind of stuff I don’t think even plays in his head. He’s very professional so he will come guns blazing like does every single weekend. He won’t worry about that.”
Will praise put pressure on Willemse and Jantjies?
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck was in quite a giving mood as he heaped praise on two of his more prominent talents in 2019.
To be fair, Damian Willemse has had to deal with high expectations since last year, when he became a fast-tracked Springbok.
Adding to the pressure is the fact the made his name at flyhalf while national coach Rassie Erasmus will pick him at fullback for the foreseeable future.
As a result, the 21-year-old had to find his feet again in 2019, but has recently settled well in the No 15 jersey.
And so, the expectations are raised again.
“He’s the No 1 fullback in the country,” said Fleck.
“He’s got a big boot and is the best player under the high ball – at least he is in our side. He will continue to play a roving role on attack, but I feel fullback is where he’s best utilised.”
Herschel Jantjies has emerged pretty much from nowhere to become one of SA’s form scrumhalves, clearly relishing his opportunity without being too well-known.
That has changed.
“He is another player up there with one of the best in terms of the South African teams. He is one of the best No 9s in the country at the moment. He is playing outstanding rugby and has just grown from strength to strength as the competition has gone one,” said Fleck.
“I would think that he would get invited to a Springbok camp.”
The Stormers will hope is inspires rather than burdens him.
The Bulls’ plan could be rather simple
Pote Human’s side plays a power game, very much in the mould of Erasmus’ Boks.
It’s about physicality, aggressive defence, the unerring boot of Pollard and a few gamebreakers at the back.
While it’s not always pretty, it’s mightily effective.
Newlands isn’t a particularly happy hunting ground for the Bulls, so it’s very much likely that they’ll firstly focus on winning before flourishing.
And for that, they’ll unashamedly copy the Brumbies, who won 19-17 there last week.
“The Brumbies actually showed us it’s going to take a massive defensive effort to keep them out but we ready for that,” said Pollard.
“The Stormers got a way of how they play and they stick to it. They had all the opportunities last week, possession and territory, they just didn’t convert. They will be frustrated after last week but will still have a lot of confidence.”