National interest – whether that’s a good or bad thing – is a dominant theme to this weekend’s local Super Rugby action.
Eyebrows have been raised by the Stormers’ decision to rest front-row mainstays Steven Kitshoff and Bongi Mbonambi, who are on the bench for Friday’s meeting with the Reds, but captain Siya Kolisi and Damian de Allende continue a heavy workload.
The latter two are “helping out” with injury crises at flank and centre, but why Kitshoff, who only recently returned from a hamstring injury, should be given a breather is weird.
The Bulls have similarly argued they can tame an unpredictable Jaguares without Handre Pollard AND Jesse Kriel, while missing Schalk Brits though suspension.
But Duane Vermeulen is still present to “soften” the blow.
Coordination does seem a bit faulty.
Meanwhile, the Lions and Sharks have no such issues as they settle for their derby.
Here are the talking points for this weekend.
Stormers wary for Reds’ “antics”
The Capetonians had a difficult time of it last year against the Australians, who seemed intent on employing an overly physical approach.
That even led to questions about the legality of their tactics.
With the Stormers looking vulnerable, don’t bet against a similar approach.
“They tried to disrupt our game a bit with a few off-off-the-ball incidents which we were not happy about. We are expecting the same thing,” said coach Robbie Fleck.
“They will definitely look to target our pack and unsettle us there. We will be having a chat to the ref before the game and voicing one or two technical concerns as we always do.”
Dyantyi back in his “old” position
Aphiwe Dyantyi may have become a star at wing, but the groundwork for his rise was laid at centre for UJ in the Varsity Cup.
That’s why it’s not really a strange move from coach Swys de Bruin, who’s experimented a lot in 2019.
In fact, he believes the move will revitalise the 24-year-old’s rather slow start to the season.
“I think when you saw he came on against the Sunwolves he was right on song. He played 10 in his career as a schoolboy, then he played 13, and a bit of 15. Played wing, became a Springbok winger. He is a footballer wherever you play him,” said De Bruin.
“There are certain concepts at 13 that are good for him and his development, he is a young player. We never know if his future is at wing or 13. At least we gave him a fair chance there.”
Sharks’ only sideshow should be Beast
It’s been a week of distractions for the men from Kings Park.
First, they had to deal with Akker van der Merwe’s suspension and now Curwin Bosch is the subject of rumours that he’s heading to Cape Town.
For a side on a slippery slope in terms of form, coach Robert du Preez can’t afford his troops not being focused.
“It doesn’t interest me at all,” he said in reference to the Bosch reports.
“I’ve got a job to do and my job is to make this team win. That’s what we’re concentrating on for this weekend. I can’t be bothered about sideshows.”
Instead, what they really want is to make Beast Mtawarira’s record 157th Super Rugby appearance a special one.
Libbok’s got big boots to fill
Given Handre Pollard’s massive influence on the Bulls’ performances this season to date, it’s only natural that he leaves a big void.
The Springbok pivot has it all: bulk, hands, kicking ability and even pace.
At 1.84m and a compact 80kg, Manie Libbok isn’t exactly an imposing physical specimen and doesn’t exactly represent a like-for-like replacement.
But the 21-year-old Baby Bok is undeniably gifted … and coach Pote Human is very much aware.
“I can remind you of last year’s Currie Cup,” he said.
“During the last round robin game (against Western Province), I took him off after 15 minutes. But he came back in the semifinal in Cape Town and had an awesome game.
“I know what he can do. To play in Polly’s shadow is difficult, but he’s got skills that Pollard does not have. He’s got good feet and he is also a special player.”