CAPE TOWN – Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says they can come away with a win in Dunedin if they manage to stay in the game until halftime against the Highlanders tomorrow (8.35am kickoff).
The Super Rugby game at Forsyth Barr Stadium will be the Stormers’ last game of their three-match tour to Australasia after going down to the Waratahs and Crusaders in the first two games.
The game against the Tahs was perhaps one that the Stormers should have never lost but, on the other hand and if you look at all the mistakes they made, it’s not like they were the better team on the day. Against the Crusaders, a disastrous opening quarter overruled an improved second-half outing as the Stormers lost 45-28.
It was a similar script last year on tour to New Zealand, where they also struggled to keep early onslaughts from the Kiwis in check.
And now Fleck is confident that they’ve learnt from their mistakes of the past.
“It’s always tough travelling to New Zealand, for a South African side, but it’s not impossible to win here. And we’ve got the belief that we can do it. We just need to limit our errors and take away the space from the opposition and not give them too much time on the ball,” Fleck said from Dunedin.
“It would be lovely to come back with a win, the way we’re going now we’re feeling stronger and a win over the Highlanders will stand us in good stead for the future.
“The first minutes are critical because that’s when the Kiwi teams tend to blow you off the park and force you to make unnecessary errors. That’s what we’ve got to learn from and get better at. But I think if we can stay in there up until halftime they will be under pressure. We need to force our plan on them instead of them forcing their plan on us.”
Fleck made five changes to his starting line-up for the encounter, with 20-year-old lock Salmaan Moerat set to make his Stormers debut if he comes off the bench.
The former SA Schools skipper will provide cover for the all-new lock pairing of Jan de Klerk and Chris van Zyl, as JD Schickerling has been ruled out for four months and will have to undergo surgery on the torn pectoral muscle he sustained in Christchurch last week.
Springbok second-rower Pieter-Steph du Toit is recovering from concussion and has also been named on the bench for the match, but he is bracketed with replacement flyhalf George Whitehead, meaning that Du Toit will be on the bench if he passes his final concussion protocols by tomorrow.
On Moerat’s inclusion in the matchday squad, Fleck said: “It’s a great opportunity for him, we’re very excited to see how he goes.
“Whoever comes into the squad, we back them, doesn’t matter how many caps they have. And Salmaan is one of those guys. He’s a mature guy and his game is developing quite quickly. He’s extremely coachable and he’s got a lot of ambition. We’re happy with him coming into the squad.”
In the back row, Kobus van Dyk will start at blindside flank in the absence of Cobus Wiese - who is nursing a shoulder injury that he picked up during the fantastic performance he produced against the Crusaders, and in the front row Steven Kitshoff comes back into the run-on side, with JC Janse van Rensburg on the replacements bench.
The only change to the backline sees Dillyn Leyds move back to wing after starting at flyhalf to cover for Damian Willemse’s absence last week. Willemse missed out in Christchurch due to the haematoma he sustained against the Waratahs. The Stormers will be without the deadly pace of Seabelo Senatla out wide as he misses out due to a groin strain. JJ Engelbrecht is back on the bench after sitting out last week.
Despite missing a number if stalwarts like Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonamb and possibly Du Toit, the Stormers coach is confident that they still have enough depth in the tight five.
“We believe we’ve got enough depth in the tight five. The young guys are putting their hands up and they’re delivering up front and I expect nothing less this weekend. We’ve produced brave performances and we’re looking for another one this weekend. We are playing better, we did against the Crusaders, and we’re happy with the progression so far,” he said.
Fleck also said that they will have to be wary of the Highlanders’ kicking game, and they will go all out under the high ball.
“The Highlanders pose a different threat and different challenges. There’s other ways (to how they played against the Crusaders) that we can beat them,” Fleck said.
“They’ve got a very good contestable kicking game and the back three that they’ve got there with (Waisake) Naholo and Ben Smith are very good in the air, and Aaron Smith is right there with (Israel) Folau is terms of retaining possession there.
“They’ve probably got one of the best tactical kickers in the world in Aaron. It’s certainly something that we will be expecting.”