CAPE TOWN – “Not just a potential danger but one that will likely cause a catastrophe if not immediately obstructed or neutralised.”
That’s the definition of a “clear and present danger”. For the Stormers this week in Melbourne, that’s scrumhalf Will Genia and flyhalf Quade Cooper flashing in big red lights, according to assistant coach Paul Feeney.
The dynamic halfback pairing are playing like its 2011 again - when they drove the Reds to the Super title - and have brought a fresh dynamism to the Rebels backline since being reunited this season.
Their influence on the Rebels’ surge to the top of the Australian conference has been nothing short of sensational. Not only is their communication almost telepathic in orchestrating the wave of attacks, their influence on the players outside them too has been substantial.
In contrast, the Stormers have been try-shy this season - Robbie Fleck’s team are bottom on the try-scoring ladder with 11 - while the Rebels have been ravenous. They have crossed the whitewash 30 times already and are second behind overall tournament-leaders the Crusaders.
It is no surprise then that the leading individual try-scorer in the competition is Rebels wing Jack Maddocks with eight, while outside centre Tom English is equal fifth with five touchdowns.
“They have a good 9-10 don’t they?” Feeney quipped. “Their backs are playing well and playing with a lot of confidence. Most teams that do well have a good No 9 and 10. Genia and Cooper are pushing their team around the park.
“They are two of the best players in the world. It’s like playing against the Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga at the Highlanders, or when Dan Carter is playing with Andy Ellis at the Crusaders. They are the key to their game.
We have to try and put them under pressure, and negate how they use the ball. We can’t give them time and space because if you do that, there is only one thing that’s going to happen in this game.”
For many observers, the No 9-10 axis has actually been the Achilles heel of the Stormers’ failed Super Rugby campaigns in recent years. Nobody has come in and delivered the level of play that could consistently ignite the players alongside them.
Injuries has played its part, with pivot Jean-Luc du Plessis missing the majority of last season, but selection too has also been erratic with Damian Willemse shifting between No 10 and 15 regularly. Even utility back Dillyn Leyds has run out in the flyhalf jumper.
At least the scrumhalf situation seems to be improving with young Herschel Jantjies proving to be adept after replacing the injured Jano Vermaak earlier in the season. They will certainly be tested on Friday at AAMI Park.“We know it’s going to be a tough game, but we just have to concentrate on ourselves, especially with the amount of changes we do so that we can do our own stuff well.
We want to finish better, execute better, and do decision-making better,” Feeney said.
“We have a couple of young No 9’s. Herschel is in his first full season, and Justin Phillips has not had a lot of Super Rugby either. They’re coming along for their ages and experience.
Herschel is a real running threat and his kicking game has improved a lot, while his ball clearance under pressure is also getting better. Jean-Luc is trying to push the team around the park. It’s good that he is getting regular game-time.”@ZaahierAdams