CAPE TOWN – For all the grief enveloping New Zealand at the moment, there was at least one city that went to sleep with a smile on their faces last weekend.
A crucial element of the grieving process after any crisis is that life must go on. And that’s just what the Blues rugby team did. They gave Aucklanders a reason to rejoice. For too long an embarrassment to their illustrious predecessors, the Class of 2019 finally brought a wretched run of 20 consecutive defeats to fellow New Zealand teams to a screeching halt.
Even the players were caught up in the emotion. All Blacks winger Rieko Ioane sheepishly admitted in the aftermath that his celebration may have been “over-the-top”, but he could hardly be faulted for the 22-year-old had previously never tasted victory over a conference rival in his entire career.
The win was certainly a long time coming, but there have been signs all season that under new coach, former All Blacks fullback Leon McDonald, that the tide was turning and they will certainly look to continue that momentum this week when they face the Stormers.
“They’re are a dangerous side. Of that is no doubt. They just narrowly lost to the Crusaders and have won their last two games. Beating the Highlanders at home is not easy, so they definitely have a lot of confidence at the moment,” Stormers forwards coach Russell Winter the told media on Monday.
“They are a side that is far better than they have been for the last three years. No team is going to Eden Park and be complacent because there is a proper game waiting for you.”
The Stormers, of course, have endeavours of their own having not won in New Zealand for 11 games in succession now. They came desperately close to ending their barren run last week in Wellington against the Hurricanes where they utilised a forward-dominated game-plan that mauled the home team into submission.
But Winter knows the Blues offer up a much more steely challenge upfront than their neighbours from the capital, and that the visitors will have to provide a greater deal of subtlety and variation to their approach at the former World Cup final venue this week.
“The difference between the Blues this year and what they have been playing in the past is … I think the new coaching style has come in and are much better defensively. They have a big pack of forwards, and definitely like to grind it up front. I think they enjoy the challenge we bring and they will definitely be up for it,” he explained.
“I do think their pack poses a different threat. They are a lot more physical and they have a lot more ball carriers in that pack of forwards, which carry a slightly different challenge for us.”
The Stormers will at least hopefully pack down with the same set of forwards after with Winter confident that JD Schickerling (shoulder), Salmaan Moerat, Jaco Coetzee and Eben Etzebeth (all head injuries) should all come through their respective fitness tests this week.@ZaahierAdams