Jean De Villiers says his two-week break has “opened up my eyes a bit” about the state of the Stormers, and that the team and management have “decided on the route that we want to go”.
The 33-year-old Stormers and Springbok captain did not want to spell out what that route was, but he was adamant that his team needed to “evolve”, starting with the Easter Saturday clash against the Lions at Newlands.
If the Cape side lose, their already faint playoff hopes will almost definitely be squashed.
De Villiers, looking relaxed and sporting a fresh haircut, was in his typically good mood yesterday, in some contrast to the slightly irritated demeanour he’s had at times. You could hardly blame him when his team have lost six out of seven games while making the same mistakes over and over again.
Asked yesterday at Newlands if his fortnight rest felt like an off-season, De Villiers replied: “A holiday! I am feeling fresh. It’s nice to get everything back in place, recover a bit and watch a bit from the outside as well and experience the whole circumstance from the outside.
“The reality is that we find ourselves at the bottom of the log, and it happens a lot that you just get sidetracked by everything that’s going on. You are so focused and narrow-minded in your approach.
“It opened up my eyes a bit, and it’s nice to just approach it from a different angle. It gives you new energy, and you see the positives as well. So, I’m looking forward to contributing again and playing at Newlands again. It’s always special.”
And part of the route could be attending to the mental state of players. De Villiers said that new WP director of rugby Gert Smal and mental coach Henning Gericke would be playing important roles in helping the Stormers out of their rut.
“It’s fantastic to have Gert involved, but also, a lot has been thrown his way since he’s started,” he said.
“It’s great to have him here and it’s great to have a guy like Henning involved, but those changes don’t come within a week. From the current squad, only myself and Schalk played under Gert back in the day. So with the other guys, it takes time to earn trust – both ways.
“I’ve got no doubt about a mental coach being able to add a lot of value. The difference at a professional level is not the physical or the ability, but it’s the mental stability, mental approach and mental strength that wins you games.”
As expected, coach Allister Coetzee sprung a surprise by picking Peter Grant at fullback, while Nic Groom and Demetri Catrakilis are the new halfbacks.
Damian de Allende’s move to wing for the injured Kobus van Wyk was also confirmed.
The coach insisted that Grant could be a success at No 15. “Demetri’s kicking record speaks for itself, and Peter Grant has been off-duty in Japan, especially with his kicking. He’s had a bit of an ankle injury, so he is admittedly not as confident as he used to be with his goal-kicking,” Coetzee said.
“So it’s an opportunity to give Peter time to get back into things. There is also a tactical plan we’ve got with Peter at 15. We know what’s coming, and hopefully the tactical plan can work. He’s done it before – he’s played 15 in Japan and played most of his Matie days there.
“A lot of people might say that Peter Grant is not one of the quickest guys, but you can misjudge yourself by that. Peter has got timing, so coming in at first receiver in broken play – especially in the middle of the field – will also be an important thing for him to control.”
Wing Devon Williams has been rewarded for his try-scoring exploits for the WP Vodacom Cup side with a spot on the bench in the absence of Cheslin Kolbe, who is not yet ready.
“It’s great to see a guy like Devon getting his debut,” De Villiers said. “A guy that’s contributed so much at Vodacom level and age-group level, and now he suddenly finds himself at Stormers level. That is a positive and hopefully he can contribute positively to the team.”
Stormers: 15 Peter Grant, 14 Damian de Allende, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Michael Rhodes, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Bench: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Devon Williams, 23 Jaco Taute.
Lions (probable): 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Anthony Volmink, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnal Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe. Bench: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 JW Jonker. Referee: Stuart Berry. Kickoff: 5.05pm. - Cape Times