Makeshift Stormers have to dig deep
That is something we often hear from players and coaches ahead of a fixture involving a team who aren’t exactly known for their powerhouse reputation.
Basically, it would have applied to the Stormers’ Newlands opposition, the Sunwolves, today (kick-off 5.15pm), but as anyone who’s seen enough Super Rugby to give you a half-decent recap would warn, the Japanese side can’t exactly be held to the same punching-bag standard that would have applied a couple of seasons ago.
The Stormers of all teams would know that.
And even if that was still the case, the focus was never going to be on the Sunwolves anyway.
All that focus is on the Stormers – their injury conundrum in particular, and how their stop-gap team is going to go this afternoon and next weekend against the Sharks.
Just when we thought the Stormers were in a bad space, that ‘space’ got even worse with the addition of Damian Willemse to their injury ward.
More importantly, if they do make it to the play-offs, will they manage to pull through without the likes of Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Willemse and Sikhumbuzo Notshe, who have all been ruled out for the remainder of the Super Rugby season?
Kobus van Dyk is also temporarily out of business, while the touchline express, Seabelo Senatla, is nursing a concussion.
The extent of the injury situation was made crystal clear during the team announcement on Thursday.
It’s quite uncommon to see three players make their debut at this stage of the competition, and it just shows how deep Robbie Fleck has had to dig - past their regular squad.
Edwill van der Merwe will start on the wing, while lock David Meihuizen and flank Chris Massyn are on the replacements' bench for the clash.
Craig Barry is also in the mix, with EW Viljoen on the bench after more than a year’s absence from the team due to injury.
It’s the contribution of those new faces and welcomed-back individuals that are going to give us an indication of the Stormers’ chances - in their remaining regular season games and beyond. Because if ever full team effort was required from the Stormers, it’s today.
Fleck isn’t too concerned about his uncapped players, and that’s good. Because while belief and attitude are ever always important, that importance is bumped up given their current situation.
He was particularly confident in Van der Merwe, pointing out the winger’s Varsity Cup and SuperSport Challenge experience.
Super Rugby is at a totally different level, though, and while Fleck is aiming at eight points from the next two games, a lot will depend on how this stitched-together team do in Cape Town.
It’s a situation most unfortunate. But if they can seal the deal today and not only win but also improve on their shortcomings of last week, that ‘belief’ that’s often spoken about will become a more bankable asset.