“I wouldn’t have liked to defend against them”. Those were Stormers coach Robbie Fleck’s words when asked for his thoughts on the Blues’ blockbuster centre pairing of Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane.
The Stormers will host the New Zealanders at Newlands today (kickoff 3.05 pm) – their third Kiwi opponent this season after going down to the Crusaders and the Highlanders on their Australasia tour. And while Fleck didn’t hide the fact he knows his men are in for a challenge against the Blues duo, he also said he was satisfied with what his own centre pairing - Damian de Allende and EW Viljoen – have put on a show in recent weeks.
De Allende looked particularly impressive against the Waratahs, as his defence, his role in the Stormers’ attack and how he stepped and straightened for his try under the posts made him one of only a few Stormers standouts in Sydney.
He didn’t slack against the Crusaders and the Highlanders either, and Fleck was also pleased with what Viljoen has done this season and, with last year’s game against Tana Umaga’s men in mind, what his team can do today to keep the visitors in check.
“That’s a serious threat in midfield (Williams and Ioane) two of probably the biggest midfielders in world rugby.
"The way that Ioane moves makes him a real threat in that wide channel and it’s nice to have someone with good size, good speed, good skill and good footwork in that outside channel. He’s a class outfit,” Fleck said about the opposition centres.
“Obviously we all know what Sonny Bill’s abilities are – he’s hard to the line and he’s a great defender, and his offloading game is well spoken of. So it’s a tough challenge in that midfield.
"They’re big boys, but last year we were able to defend against them pretty well and we’ve got our own in Damian de Allende, should he be fit.”
“In the last two games he’s been outstanding for us. He’s been really physical and he’s given us good direction, he’s also been defending well.
"For me EW is a good young player and he’s building a lot of confidence. I thought he has also come through nicely in the last two games.”
“It’s a good challenge for our boys. But I think for both Damian and EW it’s a good challenge. They certainly are looking forward to it.”
That Blues centre pairing is certainly one to watch in Cape Town today, but Stormers skipper Siya Kolisi knows all too well the challenges they can expect from the Blues don’t end in midfield.
The Blues have stuck to their back row of Akira Ioane, Antonio Kiri Kiri and Jerome Kaino, and Kolisi believes they will have to “get into position” to compete against Ioane and his work rate.
“It’s definitely going to be tough. Akira Ioane has been playing very well in the back, this season has been his one to stamp his authority.
“So it’s gonna be tough, especially in the physical side of the game." Kolisis said.
"So we’re going to have to be on our toes the whole time. But we’re excited about the challenge against their loosies.”
“The most important thing is just focusing on what we have to do, especially when we get to the 22. The breakdown is going to be vital for us - having numbers on our feet. So we’re excited and we’re looking forward to it.”
There’s of course a number of other players to watch in both sides, but the Stormers have an interesting personnel situation as they will only make a call on six of their players in the match day squad’s availability today before the match.
The Cape side have been hit hard by the flu and a number of players had to sit out this week and couldn’t train.
The players who are in doubt are De Allende, Kobus van Dyk, Cobus Wiese, JC Janse van Rensburg, Carlu Sadie and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
Teams for Newlands:
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 JJ Engelbrecht, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Cobus Wiese, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 Craig Barry.
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ross Wright/Sione Mafileo, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 George Moala.