CAPE TOWN – For all the dominance of New Zealand Super Rugby teams over their South African counterparts over the years, the Stormers will at least head into Saturday’s clash against the Blues with history on their side.
The Stormers have emerged on the right side in six of their last seven outings against the Blues, including the last three on the bounce. Admittedly only one of those victories have come at Eden Park when Schalk Burger’s team overturned a 16-point deficit back in 2011, but knowing that they have kept the likes of Rieko Ioane and Sonny Bill Williams in check before – albeit at Newlands – will no doubt be a confidence booster.
“We have been pretty effective over the last couple of years when we have played them,” Stormers coach Robbie Fleck told the media from Auckland on Thursday.
“They have real gamebreakers and some real X-factor players. It is though a pretty similar team that we played over the last two years at home and we have been able to deal with them effectively. We just have to be able to put them under pressure and not let them dictate the game. We have to be able to control the game ourselves and take their big players out of it and enforce our own gameplan.”
That plan will, of course, be to bash the Blues into the lush Eden Park turf through the Stormers powerful set of forwards in the same manner as they pummeled the Hurricanes last week. There are a couple of changes, though, with Wilco Louw rotating with Frans Malherbe at tighthead prop and Jaco Coetzee with Juarno Agustus at the back of the scrum, but the most significant is the return of Eben Etzebeth after JD Schickerling was forced to return home with a shoulder injury.
Having missed out on last week’s barnstorming performance due to failing a concussion test, Etzebeth will be eager to get stuck right in.
“Eben is a big player for us. I thought our pack played really well last weekend. We were pretty dominant and the guys who did replace Eben did a great job.
Eben is an experienced campaigner and just having him on the team sheet makes a big difference and brings a lot of confidence to the group,” Fleck said.
“He is 100% in terms of the head knock. We pushed him quite far into last week to see if he could get ready, but it usually takes about a week and he was raring to go by Monday. He has gone really well this week.”
Fleck has made three changes to the backline too with Damian Willemse returning at fullback due to Dillyn Leyds' shift to the left-wing at the expense of SP Marais. There is a further change at outside centre as Dan du Plessis is back at No 13 for Blitzbok Ruhan Nel.
Although Fleck insists the swap out wide is not due to Marais’ lack of pace being exposed last week by Hurricanes flyer Wes Goosen who raced in for two tries in the far right corner, Leyds’ extra gas is certainly an advantage when contending with one of the finest back divisions in Super Rugby.
The teams to play at Eden Park are:
15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele'a, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Bench: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Karl Tu'inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Daniel du Plessis, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Bench: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Josh Stander, 23 SP Marais.
Start: 8:35 am (SA time), TV: SS1