While he feels that the Stormers will be competitive in the United Rugby Championship (URC), former Springbok captain Bob Skinstad believes that the four South African teams will “still have to play try-scoring rugby to win these games” in Europe.
Skinstad was part of a URC discussion panel that included Benetton and Italy wing Monty Ioane, former Scotland forward Jim Hamilton, ex-Ospreys coach Sean Holley and Roc Nation Sports chief executive Michael Yormark on Wednesday.
The former Stormers skipper said the Cape Town outfit will have a great opportunity to stamp their mark on the tournament when they face Rainbow Cup champions Benetton in Treviso on Saturday (2pm SA time kickoff).
“I think they started to get a few things together (in the Currie Cup) – they were able to play some combinations towards the end of that tournament, and therefore made it through (to the semi-finals). It was a bit of an all-or-nothing semi-final show for them,” Skinstad said.
“But I think in this tournament, the Bulls got a hiding from Benetton – I was at that game, and I loved it (the occasion). To be honest, it was one of those matches when everything went right for Benetton and everything went wrong for the Bulls.
“I loved hearing about, after the time, the fact that six of the young Bulls players had never actually played in front of a crowd since they’ve been a professional rugby player. So, they got smashed, and Benetton deservedly won that.
“I think Benetton will be very good at home, and very good contenders – for any team in fact, not just the Stormers. But they will be a stiff test for the Stormers early on in the tournament.
“So, if they want to prepare themselves and get ready for this quality of rugby, and be able to play in similar-ish conditions, then this is the time of year to be taking on games like that. But I think they will mark it as one where they really want to try to get some points out – although they’ll know if it’s a tough test.”
In terms of what the Stormers, Bulls, Sharks and Lions can expect in the European rugby environment, Skinstad felt that conditions won’t be as bad as South Africans may fear up north.
“With the proliferation of expertise around the world, the pitches are some of the best that I’ve ever seen, even in the middle of winter. It’s cold above ground, but you are not necessarily slipping and sliding around. We’ve seen Heineken Cup matches, and in fact, last year’s end of the domestic (UK) competition here, it was an 85-point humdinger,” he said.
“The South African teams will be aware of the fact that they will still have to play try-scoring rugby to win these games. They will, however, come up against a very technically efficient set of players. And I’m talking most particularly in lineout, and lineout delivery… And then the loose forwards – they can pick and steal balls like the best of the best South Africans.
“There is an art and a nuance in a cold, wet game to still doing your job as a loose forward. It was obviously something I ran away from, because I was playing in the backs most of the time!
“But it really is something you’ve got to have a handle on… your possession. You’ve got to maintain it, and then know what to do with it when you get it on the front foot.”