CAPE TOWN – Even though his captain Siya Kolisi has only had 40 minutes of pre-season rugby and a spate of late injuries forced a couple of changes for tomorrow’s opening Super Rugby clash against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck remains hugely optimistic about his team’s chances in this season’s competition.
Fleck will travel to Pretoria without Springbok props Steven Kitshoff (hamstring) and Frans Malherbe (bruised knee).
Promising No 8 Juarno Augustus (ankle) will also not make the trip along with wing Sergeal Petersen (foot), while Eben Etzebeth has also been given another week to get over his back injury.
By far the most serious is Kitshoff’s hamstring strain with the flame-haired front-ranker expected to spend four to six weeks on the sidelines.
“He (Kitshoff) took a clean-out against Boland and did his hamstring. It’s a Grade 2, so the aim is for him to return for the tour. If we get him for the Jaguares game that would be a bonus, but it’s likely that we will only get him for the tour.
Up until this week we were looking good on the injury front. We had these few setbacks in the last couple of days but luckily most aren’t serious barring Kitsie so it’s not too bad. It’s part of the game,” said Fleck.
It is an early test of the Stormers’ depth in reserves, but with Ali Vermaak and Wilco Louw set to scrum down alongside Bongi Mbonambi, there is still enough grunt to front up to a powerful and grizzled Bulls pack.
“(Bulls coach) Pote Human has got some old school Bulls values. I think he treasures the set-piece, maul and encourages a solid kicking game,” added the Stormers coach. “But what they got from Mitch (John Mitchell) last year is an extra attacking dimension.
“That was evident in the semi-final against us in the Currie Cup. Pote has brought a nice balance to the game. I think it suits their players.
“They also have experience in Duane Vermeulen Schalk Brits and Lood de Jager which they didn’t have when we played them last year. Those three in particular will certainly help them.
“There is no bigger game than the Bulls at Loftus. We have three local derbies to start the campaign so we need to start well. It’s a great challenge for us. It’s going to take a full 80 minutes to win up at Loftus and we feel that we are physically and mentally ready.”
With Damien Willemse pulling the strings at No 10 for the Stormers and Dillyn Leyds roaming in the fullback position, the visitors are hoping to play a free-flowing game despite the threat of heavy rain tomorrow afternoon.
Hopefully the weather holds long enough for Stormers debutant Ruhan Nel to showcase his silky skills in the No 13 jumper alongside Bok inside centre Damian de Allende.@ZaahierAdams