The Stormers began their “Mission Impossible” yesterday with a marathon journey to Christchurch, but despite having to take on the Crusaders on Saturday, things may just begin to look up for Jean de Villiers’s men.
Apart from beating the Hurricanes last Friday – it wasn’t pretty, but they still won – the Stormers will land in Christchurch today (late Monday night New Zealand time) and will be greeted by a familiar face at the hotel.
Stalwart flyhalf Peter Grant will join the side today after his Japanese club Kobe lost their semi-final at the weekend, and coach Allister Coetzee should seriously consider handing the No 10 jersey straight to Grant for the Crusaders game.
It was announced at the weekend that Argentine lock Manuel Carizza is out for eight weeks with a wrist injury, but the Crusaders sustained an even bigger blow as All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is also out for around eight weeks with a broken thumb. Coupled with consecutive defeats to the Chiefs and Blues, and suddenly the seven-times champions look a bit vulnerable.
The Cape side are far from being at their best, but there’s a first time for everything, and perhaps being given very little chance of winning on Saturday could just propel the Stormers to a miracle victory.
Coetzee and De Villiers believe the team will take a lot of heart out of the 19-18 win over the Hurricanes for the tour. “The classic lineout try (by Deon Fourie from a maul at the end to win the game) shows the trust in the team – we’d lost five lineouts, we lost the previous lineout there, and the captain called again for a mauling try. It shows the trust and it shows that this team has got belief,” the coach said.
“That is why I am proud of the Stormers team. And I see things and glimpses of three or four years ago where we scraped out wins, we started winning narrowly and we got the confidence and momentum. So yes, from that perspective, massive win for us – this is what we needed. You want to go on tour in this sort of fashion. This is the cement that we needed. Lots of things to work on still, especially with our opportunities not taken, but we are very pleased to start off with a narrow win like this.”
While the performance was a noticeable improvement from the abject display against the Lions, as the Stormers played with greater urgency and purpose, a lack of composure was still evident as many opportunities were wasted and the lineout didn’t function properly.
The Stormers can’t expect to beat the Crusaders for the first time in New Zealand by playing like that. “This one-point win was huge for us, it didn’t matter how we got it, we just had to win,” De Villiers said. “The Crusaders will be hurting, and they are a formidable team at home. We’ve never won there, so it’s a great challenge.”
Coetzee will name his team on Wednesday, and he has a number of selection dilemmas to solve. Catrakilis kept his cool to slot the final conversion, but he hasn’t been convincing in his two starts. His tactical kicking has been off the mark, while he hasn’t taken charge of the backline as he would’ve liked to.
Decision-making is one of the bugbears of the Stormers’ backline at the moment, and even though Grant has been away in Japan, he has the ability to get the best out of strike-runners such as De Villiers, Damian de Allende and Gio Aplon, so it would be a wise move by Coetzee to bring him straight back into the starting line-up.
Grant’s presence would also make things easier for the scrumhalf, whether it be Louis Schreuder or Nic Groom, both of whom have battled with their service so far.
And with Carizza out, it could be an ideal time to change both locks. De Kock Steenkamp is fit and should replace Carizza as the main jumper and lineout organiser, while Michael Rhodes has impressed in his two cameos off the bench and would add greater athleticism at No 4 compared to Rynhardt Elstadt, who works hard in the tight loose, but has had a tough time in the lineouts.
With Schalk Burger set to be fit after withdrawing from the Hurricanes game with a groin problem, Coetzee said that he would “make plans accordingly” with the loose trio depending on McCaw’s fitness.
But the All Blacks skipper’s replacement, Matt Todd, is equally adept at the breakdowns, so it would a better bet to retain Deon Fourie at openside flank than to reinstate Burger.
STORMERS TOUR SQUAD
Gio Aplon, Ruan Botha, Schalk Burger, Nizaam Carr, Demetri Catrakilis, Pat Cilliers, Kurt Coleman, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers, Rynhardt Elstadt, Deon Fourie, Peter Grant, Nic Groom, Brok Harris, Oli Kebble, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi, Tiaan Liebenberg, Frans Malherbe, Scarra Ntubeni, Michael Rhodes, Louis Schreuder, De Kock Steenkamp, Sailosi Tagicakibau, Jaco Taute, Kobus van Wyk, Duane Vermeulen.
(All SA times)
Wellington: Hurricanes vs Brumbies (8.35am), Brisbane: Reds vs Cheetahs (10:40am).
Christchurch: Crusaders vs Stormers (8.35am), Perth: Western Force vs Melbourne Rebels (10.40am), Pretoria: Bulls vs Blues (5.05pm), Durban: Sharks v Lions (7.10pm).
P W D L F A B P
Waratahs 2 2 0 0 75 26 2 10
Sharks 2 2 0 0 58 25 1 9
Chiefs 2 2 0 0 39 29 0 8
Lions 3 2 0 1 72 55 0 8
H’landers 2 1 0 1 48 42 2 6
Rebels 1 1 0 0 35 14 1 5
Blues 2 1 0 1 56 53 1 5
Bulls 3 1 0 2 50 63 1 5
Cheetahs 3 1 0 2 49 65 1 5
Brumbies 2 1 0 1 44 41 0 4
Reds 2 1 0 1 32 49 0 4
Stormers 2 1 0 1 29 52 0 4
H’canes 2 0 0 2 27 46 1 1
Crusaders 2 0 0 2 34 53 0 0
Force 2 0 0 2 35 70 0 0 - Cape Times