CAPE TOWN – Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says his bench is going to be crucial and will “probably come on early” in their Super Rugby encounter against the Sunwolves in Hong Kong tomorrow (kickoff 7.15 am).
Weather conditions alone are expected to be a challenge when the Mong Kok Stadium hosts the first-ever Super Rugby game in Hong Kong, and Fleck said that he will, in all likelihood, bring the replacements into the game early to try to combat the heat-related fatigue.
That bench will feature the likes of regular skipper Siya Kolisi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Frans Malherbe, Scarra Ntubeni and EW Viljoen, and Fleck is excited about the intensity they can bring later in the game.
“The bench are going to have to play a major role and they’ll probably come on early. The one we selected is an exciting bench and they can make a real impact. Everyone is going to have to play their role,” Fleck said.
“The conditions are more extreme than what we experienced in Singapore (when they last played the Sunwolves), it’s going to be challenging, so how we play is important if we want to win this game,” Fleck said yesterday.
“The conditions are actually crazy, training has been challenging...the guys have been putting ice in their boots. It’s 31 degrees and the humidity is quite radical, so it’ll be interesting to see how both teams go.”
Fleck has made a couple of changes for their second-last game before the international break.
In the back row, Kolisi moves to the bench as his workload is being managed, while Kobus van Dyk - who moves from blindside flank to openside - is joined in the loose trio by Nizaam Carr and Cobus Wiese at No 8 and No 7 respectively.
Chris van Zyl will start at No 4 lock again and take over the captaincy, and in the front row JC Janse van Rensburg comes into the run-on side at loosehead prop to replace the injured Steven Kitshoff, while Carlu Sadie and Jan de Klerk both get a spot among the replacements.
In the backline, Jean-Luc du Plessis will get his first start for the Stormers this season after coming off the bench in their last two fixtures. Du Plessis takes over the No 10 jersey from Damian Willemse, who has joined the Junior Boks for the World Rugby Under-20 Championship, which kicks off later this month. Speedster Seabelo Senatla also comes into the starting XV, with centre Viljoen returning to action off the bench after being rested for two games.
While the Stormers chief said that they’re not planning on deviating from their style or how they want to play, he added that they’re going to have to be “tactically smart” and “play to their strengths” tomorrow.
“We don’t want to slow the game down or anything like that, but I think it’s going to be a real tactical game for both teams if the conditions (stay) the way they are. The game is played at 1pm (Hong Kong time), so tactically we’re going to have to be really smart in that humidity.”
“We need to play it on our terms and we need to control the game from the outset. We need to play to our strengths.”
“Like we said last week, we certainly have to win every game going forward.”
The Stormers and the Sunwolves could possibly serve another Super Rugby first this season - a full stadium.
The Mong Kok Stadium - which normally hosts Hong Kong Premier League football matches - has a seating capacity of only 6 769, and given that it’s Super Rugby’s debut in Hong Kong, we could see quite a turnout.
“When these small stadiums are packed they tend to have a great atmosphere and a great vibe,” said Fleck.
He added that the Sunwolves pose a number of threats that could - combined with the conditions - make it a difficult afternoon if the Stormers don’t bring their A-game.
“They’ve got a smart kicking game and very good coaches. They want to play a bit of territory and they certainly can play a high-tempo game. They’ve shown that they’re capable of holding onto the ball for multiple phases and putting teams under pressure.”
“They don’t make many mistakes and the ball is going to be slippery, and they might be used to that so I guess that’ll be part of the tactics.”
The #DHLStormers will break new ground with their first game in Hong Kong on Saturday when they face the Sunwolves. Here is the team that will run out at the Mong Kok Stadium. #iamastormer #WeStandTogether pic.twitter.com/eyJllUNgIU
The Stormers team is:
15 SP Marais, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Chris van Zyl (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Carlu Sadie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 EW Viljoen.