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TRAVEL fatigue won’t work in the Stormers’ favour when the Bulls jog on to Loftus Versfeld to face the SA conference leaders after a month-long tour of Australasia.
“The Bulls have been coming back from tour to stuff sides up at Loftus for years now,” Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said yesterday.
“I can count on one hand the number of sides that have beaten the Bulls at Loftus after they’ve come back from a Super Rugby tour.”
Indeed, since 2004 the Bulls have won seven of eight homecoming matches and, because Frans Ludeke’s side ended their recent tour with losses against the Highlanders and Chiefs, Coetzee expects them to be fired up to make amends.
“The Bulls are obviously a quality side because they’ve got 15 players in the Springbok squad, and I’m sure they won’t want to lose a third one in a row, so we know we’re in a for a helluva match,” he said.
In perfect circumstances, the Stormers would be marginal underdogs against the three-time champions in Pretoria, but the belated decision by SA Rugby to withdraw all players selected for South Africa at the upcoming IRB Junior World Championship has demoted Coetzee’s team to rank outsiders this week.
Not only do the Stormers have just four days to address the set-piece failures exposed by the Sharks, but they will also have to do so without first-choice loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff, who has been forced to join preparations for the Baby Boks’ opener against Ireland on Monday.
None of the Bulls’ junior stand-outs is part of Ludeke’s Super 15 plans.
“We’re obviously going to miss a quality player like Kitshoff,” said the Stormers coach. “He’s missing out on an opportunity to play against Springbok hopefuls like Werner Kruger.
“It’s never been like that in the past, but we’ve got to follow the regulation that came out last week – that SA Sevens and SA Under-20s take preference over Super Rugby.”
It stands to reason that Baby Boks coach Dawie Theron should have access to his squad in the build-up to the junior tournament, but why a final decision on the matter was reached by SA Rugby as late as last week remains a mystery.
“I had meetings with Dawie and we had a plan (for Kitshoff), and we were both excited about the plan,” said the bemused Stormers coach. “And then it changed. I don’t know who wasn’t happy with the plan.
“The plan was to manage Kitshoff, because he’s a starter for us. We were going to manage him in a way that’s beneficial to both parties.
“He would sit out against Ireland and play for the rest of the competition and, should they go all the way into the final, I would look at giving him a break (when he got back). Unfortunately it’s not to be, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Coetzee confirmed that tighthead prop Brok Harris would not shift to the left side of the front row this week, but that either Deon Carstens or Wicus Blaauw would be called up to start in the No 1 jersey.
Even though the Stormers dominated the second-half possession stakes to bounce back from a 20-6 half-time deficit at Kings Park on Saturday, Coetzee denied that this validated a switch to a ball-in-hand approach against the Bulls.
“We had no option but to hold on to the ball and, in the context of the game, we were 25-6 down, so you can’t hope to score a try (from pressure tactics), you have to back your attack to score tries.
“But (Super Rugby) is not like the schoolboy game where the ball goes from the flyhalf to centre, centre to wing, and then the fullback joins the line and scores in the corner.
“The game has changed and you have to adapt to that.”