He has a 94% goal-kicking record this season, and is one of the mainstays of the Stormers side. Yet Peter Grant is seldom considered for the Springbok team, but Jean de Villiers says the cool flyhalf is “probably our best player this year”.
High praise indeed from the Stormers and Bok captain, and Grant is the man De Villiers and coach Allister Coetzee are banking on to guide the Cape side in what will be a pressure-packed Super Rugby semi-final against the Sharks at a sold-out Newlands.
Grant has slotted those pressure kicks all season long, with a brilliant record of 45 out of 48, including a touchline penalty in the first-round game against the Sharks at Newlands that secured a 15-12 victory for the Stormers.
The 27-year-old will come up against French maestro Frederic Michalak, who has found his best touches for the Sharks in recent weeks as well. “Freddie is a very flamboyant player – he can be fantastic on the day and change a game. Charl (McLeod) puts a lot of pressure on the opposition halfbacks, and they both fit really well into the Sharks’ structure. It’s a big part of their game,” De Villiers said after practice at Newlands yesterday.
“We have two guys who have been stalwarts for the Stormers. Peter Grant, in my view, is probably our best player this year. He’s been fantastic, he’s won us games. He won us the game against the Sharks here at Newlands by kicking that penalty.
“Dewaldt (Duvenage) has been a consistent player throughout, and he is a leader within the squad as well. We have put a lot of confidence in them. They’ve been good for us, and hopefully they can put up a good performance on Saturday.”
A number of poor displays by Bok No 10 Morné Steyn in recent weeks will hopefully make coach Heyneke Meyer reconsider his flyhalf selection, and with Patrick Lambie still struggling with an ankle injury, Grant could be his man. “Peter’s got to keep playing the way he has played for the Stormers. By fulfilling his role, he is making a (Bok) statement in any case,” Coetzee said on Wednesday.
“He’s got to keep marshalling, give us direction, knocking them over when the opposition gets penalised. Defensively, he has always been strong, and that is what we expect Peter to do. But again, it’s a massive team effort, and that is why this team has been renowned for their commitment to each other and playing as a team.”
The Stormers were dealt a significant blow on Wednesday when Duane Vermeulen failed to recover sufficiently from his knee injury, which sees Deon Fourie continue at No 8 in the semi-final. Vermeulen’s size would’ve been valuable against the big Sharks runners such as Willem Alberts, Ryan Kankowski and Bismarck du Plessis.
“We are taking it one day at a time. Duane has shown great progress, like I said – 60 to 70 percent. Obviously, he hasn’t kicked on from there. To play at this intensity at this time of the season, it’s not the right thing to do to push any player,” Coetzee said. “I said it from the word go – I believe in playing 100-percent fit players, and this is no different. Deon Fourie was Man of the Match in the last game, and I’m sure that he can do the job for us. Deon is really an energetic player, is all over the field and has an engine. He is an incredibly hard worker, and he is very good on the ground.
“Duane obviously brings something else, but it’s another opportunity for Deon to show his versatility.”
Coetzee said that Brok Harris’s experience of playing in previous Super Rugby playoffs won him a start at tighthead ahead of youngster Frans Malherbe, who is joined by another prop on the bench, Deon Carstens.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have lost classy young centre Paul Jordaan to a hamstring injury, which sees Tim Whitehead move from No 12 to No 13, and Meyer Bosman come in at inside centre. Powerful ball-carrier Jean Deysel has been recalled to the bench, along with fullback Riaan Viljoen.
TEAMS FOR NEWLANDS
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (capt), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Deon Fourie, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Bench: 16 Frans Malherbe, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Don Armand, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (capt), 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Odwa Ndungane, 22 Riaan Viljoen.