CAPE TOWN – While Stormers assistant coach Russell Winter says they aren’t intimidated by their trip to Johannesburg to face the Lions this weekend, he admitted that there can be “zero complacency” from the Stormers as they prepare to go up against a team that haven’t been getting it right in recent weeks.
The Lions have lost three of their seven encounters this season - in the form of losses to the Jaguares away and Blues and Crusaders at home, while they also scraped through against the Sunwolves and were lucky to prevent a shocker at Ellis Park (40-38).
But the 2017 finalists aren’t the only ones struggling.
The Stormers - fresh off a 33-23 defeat to the Bulls at Loftus - haven’t enjoyed the perfect start to Super Rugby either.
They opened their proceedings with a too-close-for-comfort win against the Jaguares at Newlands, returned from their tour to Australasia without a single win, and after two good wins over the Blues and Reds that should have done something for their confidence levels, they failed to front up against their rivals in Pretoria.
And while Winter said that they are “massively disappointed” in their weekend’s performance, he is also confident about the work they put in yesterday.
“We’re massively disappointed. We went there with a plan and the Bulls also turned up for the game, some things didn’t work for us. We didn’t keep the ball in the right areas of the field and we turned over too much ball which allowed them to get into the game. And then obviously our discipline let us down early in the game which allowed them opportunities in our 22,” Winter said yesterday.
“The yellow cards hurt us. The pressure just never went away and we never managed to get into our game. We put in some work today and hopefully we can use that on the weekend.
“We’re not intimidated by going up there, they’re a good side and the challenge is massive. But going up there is exactly what we want to do - we want to play the best sides and we want to build on the team culture.
“Winning there would be awesome, but we do understand that it’s going to require massive effort from everyone in the team to pull it off.
“But we’re definitely not threatened. We definitely need to stop their mauls. We pride ourselves on that, so that was something that the Bulls obviously worked hard on and they worked their way through it.
“We worked hard today on stopping mauls. We turned over too much ball and we didn’t allow ourselves to get into that groove of attack. So those are two aspects we worked on today.”
Winter also added that while Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel’s absence might have impacted their leadership, the Lions are still a huge threat up front.
The performance of the Stormers forwards will be one to watch this weekend, after they struggled against the Bulls pack at the weekend.
“We’re going to have to front up and the forwards are going to have to do their job. There’s going to be zero complacency from them,” Winter said.
“Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel not being there takes away that leadership role within that pack. But if you look at their loose forwards and their locks it’s the same pack that played in the final. They’re really classy players.”
On the injury front, Winter confirmed that scrumhalves Dewaldt Duvenage and Justin Phillips, and loose forward Cobus Wiese might not feature against the Lions, but added a bit of good news regarding flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis and Springbok tighthead Frans Malherbe.
“He (Du Plessis) is back to playing protocol and at the moment we wish we had more games so that the guys could get a little bit of game fitness and game match intensity. But he is training with us. I think he’ll be there soon, we’ll just have to find out ... Same with Frans Malherbe,” Winter said.
Former Stormers and Northampton scrumhalf Nic Groom has joined the Lions and will be available to play for them from this weekend.