CAPE TOWN – Rugby is virtually a religion in New Zealand, but the Stormers’ arrival in New Zealand for two Super Rugby matches is a mere blip on the national consciousness radar this week.
The entire country is still reeling after an act of terrorism killed 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch last week.
The Stormers are set to face the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday, but the home team, who played shortly after the shootings occurred, are still coming to grips with the horrific events in their country.
“It’s pretty tough to have to play a game after that,” Hurricanes and All Black star flyhalf Beauden Barrett told the media yesterday.
“Our thoughts are still with those families, people affected. I think everyone in New Zealand’s affected, it’s just so obvious, such a tragedy. The boys are still shocked and devastated by what happened.”
The Hurricanes would be forgiven if their focus was not entirely on the Stormers this week, but Barrett claims they will be ready come game time.
“It’s important (that) as athletes we learn to be able to switch on and off. To be able to do the job at hand,” the star pivot said. “I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about it on Friday night, something so tragic.
“I questioned whether we’d even be taking the field, but we’ve got to push on with life. We have the power as athletes, as sports people in New Zealand to continue to entertain and make people happy by doing what we do best, and play a positive game of footy hopefully on Saturday night.”
Barrett will certainly be an influential figure at the Wellington Regional Stadium, but the Stormers know they cannot focus solely on the mercurial halfback.
“Saturday will definitely be a big challenge for us as a team to see where we are defensively. I do think this will be our toughest opposition so far. Beauden is a world-class flyhalf and has his brother Jordie playing in the backline too,” Stormers defence coach Norman Laker said.
“They create a lot of opportunities for those playing around them, but we are not going to focus on an individual, because there are other players who can create opportunities. We will just be focusing on ourselves and how we can improve as a team.”
The visitors’ chances of producing an upset has improved due to the availability of Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth. The second-rower was expected to miss the tour opener after leaving the field at halftime against the Jaguares due to a head knock, but he has now passed a concussion test.
“Everybody is fit so far,” Laker said. “Eben obviously had the concussion on Friday, but he has passed his stage one fitness test. Everyone is looking fit and I am confident that everyone can play on Saturday.”@ZaahierAdams