Juan de Jongh jetted off to Sydney, and prop Frans Malherbe is back from injury, but whether they would be able to save the ailing Stormers is another matter ahead of Saturday’s clash against the Brumbies.
Coach Allister Coetzee told the Cape Times at the weekend that there was a “big possibility” of De Jongh joining up with the squad at Coogee Beach this week, and it is understood that he flew out of Cape Town International Airport yesterday on the long journey to Australia.
The Springbok centre is unlikely to play against the Brumbies, although he could be on the bench if Jaco Taute is ruled out.
Coetzee said that there was a possibility of Taute (AC joint) and De Kock Steenkamp (groin) missing out in Canberra, while skipper Jean de Villiers hurt his shoulder and Ruan Botha took a knock to his knee in the 36-20 loss to the Chiefs last Friday.
If Taute is ruled out, then Gio Aplon would most likely shift to No 15, with Sailosi Tagicakibau moving up from the bench to left wing. Malherbe’s little toe will have healed enough for him to face the Brumbies, and there’s a chance of lock Michael Rhodes (shoulder) also being fit again.
But while the Stormers’ injury list is one of the longest in the competition, they have much more pressing issues to deal with, the most important of which is their gameplan, and then a leaky defence.
Coetzee’s men showed that they are capable of mixing it with the defending champions halfway through the second half, when they came back from 24-6 down to within four points with as many minutes to go.
Damian de Allende’s ill-judged chip kick ended any hope of a miracle Stormers victory, but even if they had pulled it off, it has to be questioned why it took them over 50 minutes to start playing the kind of decisive rugby that has been an all-too-infrequent sight under Coetzee’s watch over the last few years.
Gio Aplon’s thrilling touchdown came directly from a scrum, and the impressive Nizaam Carr’s first ever Super Rugby try was a well-manufactured score that started well inside the Stormers’ own half.
But in the first 50 minutes, the Stormers were hamstrung by their infamous defensive mindset that saw them fail to trouble the defending champions when they had the ball.
In turn, they uncharacteristically slipped tackles in defence as the marauding Chiefs runners found space and gaps at will with their incisive running and terrific offloads in the tackle.
Coetzee was adamant that he wants his team to play with the same intent they showed in the second half from the opening minute, which they would have to do if they hope to have any chance of beating the Brumbies, who toppled the in-form Waratahs at the weekend.
“We attacked well in that period and we really want to play like that from the start. But just again, you concede penalties when you have the ball, you kick the ball directly into touch ... these are individual errors which are killing us.
“Yet again, the lack of composure when we have ball in hand, that is the thing that is sort of taking away the continuity in our game, when we look so good,” the coach said.
“The challenge is to build on that second half. It’s just a belief in our systems and what’s in the plan. It’s almost as if when we couldn’t engage physically with these okes, it’s like we were again off our programme – almost like we were caught off-guard, like ‘What’s happening now?’. Then we doubted ourselves, instead of just sticking to what we wanted to do.
“And that was the message at halftime: Just go out and don’t make decisions for them. Don’t you shoot out of line and leave a half-gap, and that’s what they are good at exploiting. Let them run at you – as soon as you go for the ball-and-all tackle, then they get the offload away or get the ball in behind your back.”
Coetzee will have to think hard about his selection for the Brumbies game, and perhaps refreshing the side in some key positions will add extra impetus to the Stormers’ effort.
Carr’s sterling second-half efforts against the Crusaders and Chiefs must bring him into the reckoning for a start, as Duane Vermeulen has looked a bit flat this season at No 8.
Peter Grant made a noticeable difference at flyhalf with his hard-running game, while he gave much-needed direction to the attack, so Demetri Catrakilis could make way. And even if Taute is fit, the Stormers coach should consider giving the powerful Tagicakibau a go at left wing, with Aplon at fullback.
“Bash (Grant) is an experienced guy and he is an in-your-face type of oke. We settled down nicely in the second half and everyone sort of chipped in and made it easier for him too,” Coetzee said.
“I was very pleased with Brokkie’s (Harris) scrummaging, and our lineouts functioned well. There are a lot of positives that we can take out of this game, and Nemo (Carr) when he came on and Siya when he came on, they had massive impacts.
“Therefore, I am still very positive about this competition. We are going to close this New Zealand chapter now and move on to the Australian leg.
“In terms of our loose forwards, those guys starting and coming are playing. They really have a massive impact on the game. We will see after reviewing the injury situation.
“It’s tough (facing the Brumbies now), but we will never give up, definitely.”
(All SA times)
Dunedin: Highlanders vs Hurricanes (8.35am)
Sydney: Waratahs vs Rebels (8.40am)
Auckland: Blues vs Cheetahs (9.35am)
Canberra: Brumbies vs Stormers (10.40am)
Perth: Force vs Chiefs (1pm)
Johannesburg: Lions vs Reds (5.05pm)
Pretoria: Bulls vs Sharks (7.10pm)
P W D L F A B P
Sharks 4 4 0 0 130 68 2 18
Chiefs 3 3 0 0 75 49 1 13
Brumbies 4 3 0 1 101 85 1 13
Lions 5 3 0 2 134 128 0 12
W’tahs 3 2 0 1 98 54 3 11
Bulls 4 2 0 2 88 85 2 10
Force 4 2 0 2 98 106 2 10
Reds 4 2 0 2 95 117 1 9
C’saders 4 2 0 2 73 85 0 8
H’landers 3 1 0 2 77 73 3 7
Blues 4 1 0 3 114 130 3 7
H’canes 4 1 0 3 108 102 2 6
Rebels 3 1 0 2 61 71 2 6
Stormers 4 1 0 3 62 102 1 5
Ch’tahs 5 1 0 4 109 168 1 5 - Cape Times