CAPE TOWN – Everything about the Stormers’ build-up to their Super Rugby clash against the Reds in Brisbane tomorrow resembles a Test match.
Certainly the war of words that has erupted does. Earlier in the week, former Stormers prop JP Smith, now playing out of the Reds camp, waved a red flag at his former teammates.
Smith claimed that SA forwards believe their Australian counterparts to be “soft” and that “they try and bully us”. He also stated that “they’re very niggly off the ball and they like to intimidate you”.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has hit back, though, saying it’s actually his team that have been the victims of the Reds’ bullying tactics, referring last season’s match at Newlands where the Australians committed a number off-the-ball tackles.
“They tried to disrupt our game a bit (last year) with a few off-off-the-ball incidents which we were not happy about. We are expecting the same thing (on Friday),” Fleck said.
“They will definitely look to target our pack and unsettle us there. Our pack is doing really well at the moment and I’m sure that’s something they will look at. The Reds are a young side, they work incredibly hard and are very competitive at home. They are combative and don’t mind mixing it.”
The Stormers forwards have undoubtedly been the team’s strength this season. After the Loftus debacle on the opening weekend, their set-piece has functioned magnificently. This has allowed the ruck and maul to take shape splendidly too.
However, after a couple of physical contests against the two New Zealand teams, Fleck has been forced to shuffle around his charges after a couple of senior players - Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit - returned to South Africa earlier in the week.
Altogether there are seven changes, five among the forwards, to the team that went down to the Blues last week at Eden Park. There is an all-new front row, with props Corne Fourie and Frans Malherbe on either side of hooker Scarra Ntubeni.
Cobus Wiese comes into the second row alongside Chris van Zyl, with Kobus van Dyk at blindside flank to complete the loose trio with captain Siya Kolisi and No 8 Jaco Coetzee. In the backline, scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies is rested for Justin Phillips, while Ruhan Nel takes back the No 13 jersey from the injured Dan du Plessis.
Even though Springboks Kolisi and Malherbe will be there to guide them, it remains a very inexperienced Stormers pack that will front up to the Reds. Fleck is confident his young charges will be up for the challenge.
“We have given the composition of the team a lot of thought and this is the strongest we can put out this weekend. One or two of the guys are being managed because they have carried a lot of the workload but will come off the bench,” Fleck said.
“Both of our tour games, against the Hurricanes and Blues, have been extremely physical. I guess that’s why we have a few injuries. That has really tested us over the past two weeks.”
The teams for Brisbane:
15 Damian Willemse 14 Sergeal Petersen 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Damian de Allende 11 Dillyn Leyds 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis 9 Justin Phillips 8 Jaco Coetzee 7 Kobus van Dyk 6 Siya Kolisi (captain) 5 Chris van Zyl 4 Cobus Wiese 3 Frans Malherbe 2 Scarra Ntubeni 1 Corne Fourie.
Bench: 16 Bongi Mbonambi 17 Steven Kitshoff 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 Salmaan Moerat 20 Juarno Augustus 21 Herschel Jantjies 22 Joshua Stander 23 SP Marais.
15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Sefa Naivalu, 12 Samu Kerevi (c), 11 Jack Hardy, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 JP Smith.
Bench: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas.@ZaahierAdams