The Stormers have included five rookies in the matchday squad for their Super Rugby opener at Ellis Park on Saturday night, but Jean de Villiers says this doesn’t reflect a lack of respect for the Lions.
“This is our best team available to play this weekend. Each guy will go in knowing he is the best in that position,” the Stormers captain told reporters at Newlands yesterday.
That was after coach Allister Coetzee had named Kobus van Wyk, Michael van der Spuy, Manuel Carizza, Oliver Kebble and Ryno Eksteen to make Super Rugby debuts.
“It’s tough to go to Joburg, it’s tough to play at Ellis Park, and they’re confident after their win,” De Villiers said.
The Lions, fielding six rookies against the Cheetahs, left Bloemfontein with a last-gasp 21-20 victory last weekend.
Even though the Stormers are chasing their 14th consecutive win against the Highveld side since 2001, De Villiers denied that a trip to the Lions’ den would be a cakewalk.
“It won’t be easy. It will be tough,” said the 96-Test Springbok veteran. “I find the local derbies to be pretty tough because every guy wants to prove himself. When you play in these derbies, it’s an opportunity to prove yourself for Springbok selection.
“I also know how tough it was when I made my debut. I remember how the older guys helped me, and that’s our responsibility (as senior players this week).”
Two of the five rookies will be within earshot of their captain for most of the match, with Van Wyk and Van der Spuy, both 22, lining up on the right wing and outside centre respectively.
Like De Villiers, Van Wyk is a Paarl Gym old boy who earned recognition playing in a junior world championship and who takes his first steps as a senior professional on the wing despite being more experienced at centre.
“There was a young guy in 2004 who started playing wing for the Boks and who walked a very similar path and things turned out all right…” De Villiers smiled, alluding to his career beginnings.
“Kobus has the potential to play (wing). He’s got enough pace and skills, he’s big and he went to a good school…
“Mikey (van der Spuy) did really well last year in the Currie Cup, showed that he can play at that level, and did a really good job.
“He’s a very talented guy, a good ball player. He kicks well and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Lock Manuel Carizza is a Super Rugby rookie, though 40 Test caps for Argentina makes the 29-year-old the most experienced lock in the squad.
The two remaining first-timers – gigantic 2012 SA U20 loosehead prop Oli Kebble and talented 2012 SA Schools flyhalf Ryno Eksteen – will make their debuts off the bench.
Meanwhile, Schalk Burger makes his long-awaited return to the Super Rugby arena in the No 7 jersey after suffering a season-ending knee injury at the start of the 2012 season.
Scarra Ntubeni and Siya Kolisi confine Deon Fourie to a bench that has no room for hooker Tiaan Liebenberg. Fourie will cover hooker, but his primary role is expected to be as a fourth-quarter fetcher.
With De Villiers and Van der Spuy manning the midfield, Damian de Allende has been shifted from his preferred inside centre berth to the left wing.
“Damian has proven himself over and over,” said De Villiers. “He’s going to have a fantastic year, whether it’s on the wing or at centre.”
15 Gio Aplon, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Michael van der Spuy, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Damian de Allende, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Ryno Eksteen
Venue: Ellis Park, Joburg
Referee: Jaco Peyper - Cape Argus