CAPE TOWN – Super Rugby is nearing, and this weekend, the Stormers and Bulls will have the chance to run through their checklist before the real action starts when they meet at Boland Stadium in Wellington on Saturday.
Yeah, it’s a common notion that pre-season results don’t count for much, but between the Bulls and Stormers, there’s always something on the line. So, here are five key tests the Stormers can aim to pass against their old foes.
1 Flyhalf potential or potential flyhalf?
Okay, so who is going to be the Stormers’ first-choice flyhalf this season isn’t a trick question - after all, we have enough reason to believe that it will be Damian Willemse. However, the Stormers’ flyhalf stocks aren’t looking so bleak after all.
Following the departure of Robert du Preez - who mostly pulled the strings at No 10 during Western Province’s title-winning Currie Cup campaign last year - the union has brought in Joshua Stander (Bulls), while they’ve also acquired the services of George Whitehead, who is on loan from Griquas.
The duo had a run in the Stormers’ first Super Rugby pre-season game against SWD, but it’s Willemse who is the one to watch. Robbie Fleck also confirmed that Jean-Luc du Plessis should return to action in the first quarter of Super Rugby, and although he won’t be subjected to any how’s-he-going ratings just yet, there are still three others who will have a show to put up, whether it’s this weekend or when Super Rugby kicks off.
Last week, Fleck said that they weren’t physical or brutal enough to win Super Rugby last season, and that it’s something that they’ve worked on. So the date with the Bulls should do quite a bit in showing Fleck and his support staff if they’ve managed to make the step-up.
Physicality is of course something that will take longer than a single off-season to improve drastically, but on Saturday it should be clear whether they’ve at least grown in terms of intent when it comes to physical on-field encounters. Traditionally, there would be no better progress-indicator when it comes to physicality than the Bulls, but the men from Pretoria have also put in the work to evolve their game. Still, it should be a good test.
3 Will Raymond rule?
Cheslin Kolbe is irreplaceable, but Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen also have some special abilities and pace. Those were the words of Fleck when he spoke about thrill-machine Kolbe’s departure to Toulouse, and how he thinks the likes of Rhule and Petersen will complement the Stormers set-up.
Fleck was asked whether he thinks his team would be able to still be as dangerous when it comes to unstructured or broken play without Kolbe’s X-factor, and he was confident that Rhule and Petersen would provide a boost in that department.
And Saturday will be as good a time as any to prove that. The newly-recruited pair were named in the Stormers squad for their warm-up in George, and it’s safe to say that the Bulls should pose a bigger threat, although they were hammered by the Lions in their friendly.
But it should be remembered that the Bulls’ Super Rugby squad had been finalised before their warm-up, so it’s not like anything was on the line for Mitchell’s charges. We’ll have to see how they go.
4 How potent is their attack?
Upgrading their attacking play is not a new goal for Fleck, and they did show a few positive glimpses last season.
Apart from the Lions, the Bulls are arguably the best opposition to not only determine how well you can handle the opposition’s attacking pressure, but also to see how well you can attack under pressure.
Mitchell has made it clear that he’s on a mission to change the Bulls and expand their playing abilities and, although it’s still early days, you can’t say that you haven’t seen it yet. So it should be a good trial-run for the Cape side.
5 Speedy movement
Speed of movement (and conditioning) is something that, according to Fleck, they’ve worked on quite a bit since last season.
So, needless to say, it’s definitely a component that should be zoomed in on come Saturday... whether that speed of movement refers to getting back in the defensive line after making a tackle, speed at the breakdowns, or from set-piece.