Cape Town - The Stormers desperately want to be regarded as an unpredictable side and they’ve achieved their objective in the sense that many of those who filter into Newlands on Saturday will do so purely to see which personality is manifested against the Cheetahs.
Fit-again captain Jean de Villiers will ultimately determine whether Jekyll or Hyde comes out this evening, and a fortnight on the sidelines has not only soothed his aching joints, but will also have served as a refresher course on how best to lead a team to victory.
“Last weekend I was sitting in the stands watching and I thought it was a pretty good showing,” De Villiers said of the 24-8 win against the Western Force. “The composure we showed throughout, and the transition we were able to make from defence to attack and vice versa was really good.
“It was one of the better games we played this year, especially if you consider the experience that was available for that game, it was still a pretty inexperienced team, and the experience they showed was really good.”
Much of the credit for that performance belongs to Duane Vermeulen, who assumed the captaincy when stand-in skipper Schalk Burger failed a late fitness test.
The No 8 put his authority to good use, spurning all-out attack for the kicking plays which pinned the Australians to the far end of the field. Presented with the deeds to prime real estate for the majority of the match, the Stormers produced three tries to one, and their biggest win of the year.
“The control we showed against the Force was good,” added De Villiers.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Stormers have been in the throes of an identity crisis ever since coach Allister Coetzee mistakenly pinned the 2012 home semi-final loss against the Sharks on an overly defensive mindset.
Defence is not the reason that the Stormers’ attack has broken down in recent years – it is the reason that the Stormers have somehow remained competitive despite a faulty attacking game, which has rather been the symptom of a completely unreliable set piece.
Vermeulen understands this and that’s why, when given the opportunity to make the calls last week, he reverted to the fundamentals of the plan that led the Stormers to the top of the log in 2012, and to an emphatic win against a Force outfit that started round 14 all of 10 rungs higher on the Super Rugby ladder.
Two weeks ago, De Villiers watched as the Stormers embraced care-free rugby in an embarrassing 28-12 loss against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
In that match, the visitors made more metres on the ground and more offloads out of the tackle, but kicked and tackled less than their opponents. Against the Force, the Stormers kicked and tackled more, and made fewer carries and offloads.
After the first of those two matches, the Stormers flopped back into last place.
Conversely, the win against the Force boosted the Stormers two places on the standings and reminded everyone just how potent they can be when they play to win instead of playing to wow.
Hopefully De Villiers was taking notes, because the calls he makes today will determine whether the Stormers patiently wait for their rivals to run into trouble, or gift-wrap the Cheetahs’ first win at Newlands since 2006 by trying to conjure crowd-pleasing, long-range scores.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Damian de Allende, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Alistair Vermaak. Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Dylon Frylinck, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Kobus van Wyk.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Willem Serfontein, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen. Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Hilton Lobberts, 20 Carel Greeff, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Gouws Prinsloo.
Referee: Stuart Berry.