CAPE TOWN – Gone are the days when replacements merely picked up splinters for 80 minutes. They are now an integral part of any rugby team, and none more so than for both teams at Eden Park tomorrow.
Both the Blues and Stormers have packed their benches with All Blacks and Springboks respectively in the hope that they can make that desired impact in the final quarter.
That’s not to diminish the role of the starting XV where there is still an abundance of talent and experience in both teams, but its jerseys No 16-23 that could decide the outcome.
“We have a good strong bench to counter the Blues in that last 20-minute period. New Zealand teams tend to finish quite strong. I think we finished the stronger team last weekend. We had the opportunity to win,” Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said.
“It’s going to take another 80-minute performance this weekend against the Blues. The last 20 minutes is certainly going to be critical. Having experienced guys like Frans Malherbe and Scarra (Ntubeni) coming off the bench does play a big role, and with (Juarno) Augustus over there too, it gives us a bit of power.
“We just have to manage the game really well. We know the Kiwi sides like to lift the tempo in the last 20 minutes. They certainly back themselves to win the game there. It won’t change too much. It’s about how we go about managing the game. We want to go toe-to-toe with them the whole game.”
Fleck’s Blues counterpart Leon McDonald seems to be singing off the same hymn sheet with All Black props Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, along with blockbusting centre Sonny Bill Williams all waiting to be tagged in.
With so much talent champing at the bit to be unleashed, the run-on XVs will certainly be going full throttle. None more so than Bok strongman Eben Etzebeth, who is back out on the park after passing all his concussion tests.
“He is 100% in terms of the head knock. We pushed him quite far into last week to see if he could get ready, but it usually takes about a week and he was raring to go by Monday. He has gone really well this week,” Fleck said.
“He is looking forward to playing.”
Etzebeth’s return is one of six changes for the Stormers this week. Damian Willemse is back at fullback, with Dillyn Leyds shifting to the left wing at the expense of SP Marais while Dan du Plessis is back at outside centre.
Jaco Coetzee starts at No 8 along with Wilco Louw at tighthead prop, while a fit-again Etzebeth, pictured, comes into the second row in place of the injured JD Schickerling. The latter has returned to Cape Town and is expected to be out for three weeks.
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Daniel du Plessis, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Bench: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Josh Stander, 23 SP Marais.@ZaahierAdams