Better the devil you know
Last week Schalk Burger and Victor Matfield were golf partners, but this weekend they will be enemies when they lead their teams at Newlands.
Last week Schalk Burger and Victor Matfield were golf partners, but this weekend they will be mortal enemies when they lead their teams out at Newlands.
The two Bok stalwarts have walked a long road together, playing side by side at three World Cups and winning one. Both took a two year break from the game altogether for different reasons after the 2011 edition, with Matfield retiring and Burger sidelined through injury.
They were back in the same starting line-up for the first time since the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal loss to Australia last week when Matfield skippered the team that beat Scotland 55-6 in Port Elizabeth, but all of that will be put to one side on Saturday when the Stormers face the Bulls in the big North-South Super Rugby derby.
Burger admitted that it will be a little strange going up against his old mate so soon after they had been on the same team, both on the rugby pitch and the golf course.
"It is tough, first you have to get your head around it. He was my golf partner and we lost against Fourie du Preez and Duane Vermeulen which was quite sad, we were one-up for a long period of that game.
"It is not going to be easy, but hopefully by Friday or Saturday I have got my head around playing against Victor because it was quite nice playing with him for a change," he said.
Although the Stormers are out of the play-off race there is plenty for them to play for with a number of experienced players moving on at the end of this season and the chance to impress Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer ahead of the Rugby Championship.
"It is a massive game, and for our team we are losing quite a few guys for next season and we are realising that we have been together for quite some time so we want to make it a special send-off.
"The Cape Town people are turning out in their masses this weekend, I am not sure how many tickets have been sold but the initial response has been good. We want to end our season on a high and we are looking forward to the game on Saturday," said Burger.
With wet weather expected at Newlands on Saturday, the set-piece battle will be key in what could be a tactical duel for territory, and Burger knows that Matfield and the Bulls pack will pose a massive threat, especially as more kicking means more line-outs.
"He runs line-outs and he is the best exponent of line-outs in the world so we have got to come up with a plan to counter that. In the previous game we came up with an efficient enough plan and we got most of our ball but this weekend we have to come up with a new plan.
"He is obviously a phenomenal line-out specialist and if the weather is wet and the teams play for territory you have got to get your first phases functioning at 100%," he said.
The Stormers captain added that his side have to have a clear plan to combat the Bulls' mauling game, or they could find themselves coming unstuck.
"In a week like this playing against the Bulls we have got to put in more effort. Probably 70% of their line-outs are mauls and they maul to get penalties or maul to score tries.
"If they maul to get a penalty it is a free exit, and then they kick it 60 metres down the field and they get the ball and put you in that pressure cooker situation.
"You have got to front up to it and you have got to come up with a plan, you can't just try and force it each man. So we as a team collectively have to buy into a plan and try and stop it.
"It is never easy especially if they get a roll on but we like to maul quite a bit as well and we have had some success. It is part of the basics of the game, if we let them play on their terms with their philosophy they will put you under huge pressure," he said.
When the teams met at Loftus Versfeld earlier in the season the Stormers made the early running before succumbing to the Bulls' suffocating kicking game, and Burger is adamant they have taken lessons from that defeat.
"In our previous game we started really nicely and put them under pressure, and then as the game carried on we had an inability to exit our own half and whenever we got into their half we gave them free exits via penalties or our own mistakes.
"As the game progressed they started pinning us in our own half and through that penalty after penalty and a try or two started getting the scoreboard to move on.
"This weekend after that the team has improved bit by bit, I think we have got the balance right in how to exit and when to exit. In games after that we have been able to put other teams under pressure like the Bulls put us under pressure.
"This weekend is again going to be a tactical challenge for us, hopefully we start off well and we can pin them in their own half. Obviously the two sides have a different style of play - where we take a few more chances and play with the ball a bit more they are pretty structured, so it is going to be an interesting match-up but at the end of the day it is a derby so there is a lot of feeling and a lot of physicality and hopefully our team can match up to theirs," he said.
By Michael de Vries