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Stormers struggling to stay fresh

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The Stormers in training.

THE physical toll of a game based largely around defence is starting to take effect on the Stormers, and coach Allister Coetzee hopes to get “22 fresh bodies” ready for Saturday’s big derby against the Sharks in Durban.

The Stormers just held on for a physically draining 19-13 victory over the Waratahs on Saturday night at Newlands, and although Coetzee said that there were no major injuries to his players afterwards, he was facing a difficult task this week to get everyone in reasonable shape for the Kings Park showdown.

Flank Siya Kolisi had to be substituted just 10 minutes into the second half due to a combination of fatigue and minor knocks to his shoulder and knee, while Andries Bekker also left the field with 15 minutes left. He has been struggling with a painful back for a while, and is being managed carefully as the Stormers cannot afford any further injuries in the pack.

Joe Pietersen also had to be replaced by Gerhard van den Heever when Bekker went off, and the fullback is believed to have a minor niggle and will be assessed at training today.

It is going to be get rough and tough in Durban, especially with Bismarck du Plessis in inspirational form at the weekend in the Sharks’ bonus-point win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

So the Stormers will need to stand up physically once more if they hope to maintain top spot on the Super Rugby log, with the Man of the Match against the Waratahs, lock Eben Etzebeth, sure to be a key figure once again.

“It’s a massive clash against the Sharks. They proved against the Cheetahs away from home that they could get five points. So, I’ve got to make sure that we have 22 fresh bodies out there next week against the Sharks,” Coetzee said.

“Siya got a knock to his shoulder, and also earlier in the week to his knee. Young players like Siya, and Eben (Etzebeth) has also had shoulder problems. Siya has started every game up to now, and you’ve got to manage them and back the players off the bench.

“Andries is fine, Andries is perfect. I think, at that stage, we needed some fresh legs and some energy. Obviously De Kock (Steenkamp) brought a lot of energy and physicality, and that’s why we took off Andries.

“I’m thinking of giving the players off for the whole of the week, and only let them train at captain’s (practice)! It depends on what the injury situation is like – there are a lot of bumps and bruises and niggles there. One has to see what it’s like on Monday, but the key thing this coming week is definitely recovery.”

The Stormers attack finally fired at times, and they were most threatening when they played with width. Captain Jean de Villiers and flyhalf Peter Grant delivered a few crisp passes, while Dewaldt Duvenage also mixed up his game well.

Pietersen’s try in the first quarter was a fine effort, and the fact that it came from a set-piece move off the lineout – with Gio Aplon bursting through on the inside, before Grant drew the defence and De Villiers threw a floating pass for Pietersen to finish – would’ve given Coetzee and backline coach Robbie Fleck great satisfaction.

The Stormers threatened to cut loose with ball-in-hand, which was highly encouraging.

Although there were a couple of superb raking tactical punts, especially by Pietersen, there was also a lot of aimless kicking, and that needs to be cut out.

“We knew that they were going to turn us and we would run from deep, and that’s what they wanted. We also knew that it was important that it was going to be nothing different than a kicking battle, and not get caught up in a bonus-point try, the four tries ... This is the nature of the competition – you’ve got to make sure that you grind out your wins,” Coetzee said.

“It was always the case that when it was quite nice conditions in the first half – nice and dry – we had quite a crack and there was a big improvement in our attack. I was really pleased with what I saw.

“It’s important that we keep the winning momentum, but it is also important to note that we would really like to score four tries. We would really like to attack more, if it’s proper conditions. We will always look at that.

“These are things that we work on, and that’s how we roll on in this competition, making sure that we win first.”

De Villiers was back to the form he displayed before his wrist injury, and the Springbok centre was pleased with the backline’s efforts. “I’m very happy with the performance. The way we played in the first half, but then we had a lapse in concentration after halftime,” he said.

“The wet weather definitely had an influence on our gameplan for the second half. I still felt that we had opportunities to score tries in the second half, and we messed it up. If we had had one more ruck in that sequence, we might’ve scored.

“I thought we handled the ball a lot more, compared to last week and before that. So we are improving, and we are getting used to it. The conditions weren’t great out there. It did prohibit us to play a bit more in the second half.”

De Villiers is also wary of a Sharks side that have hit top form in the last few weeks, and again made a big statement about their attacking prowess by scoring four tries against the Cheetahs on Saturday.

They will be even stronger as flyhalf Patrick Lambie is expected to be back after flu ruled him out of the Cheetahs game. “The Sharks have been impressive. If I had to say, they are probably the team that have impressed me the most in the last couple of weeks,” De Villiers said.

“They are playing with a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence. That’s dangerous ...” – Cape Times


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