CAPE TOWN – The Stormers may be the biggest beneficiary of New Zealand Rugby’s rest management system for its 32 elite All Black players.
Last week the tourists pushed a Hurricanes team without All Blacks TJ Perenara, Ngani Laumape and Dane Coles desperately close in Wellington. It was easily the Stormers’ most competitive match on New Zealand soil for some time. Under New Zealand Rugby regulations, players may not play more than five matches in a row during the Super Rugby season - effectively sitting out two games - and there was also a 180-minute cap of game time over the first three rounds as per the directive from All Black coach Steve Hansen.
With the Stormers preparing to face the in-form Blues this weekend at Eden Park, they will be pleased to hear that All Black flyer Rieko Ioane is fast approaching his threshold and could be in danger of missing Saturday’s clash.
It would be a particularly bitter pill to swallow for the Blues for the 22-year-old has been in sensational form recently. Ioane has crossed the whitewash six times in his last two matches - that’s just three tries less than the Stormers have scored in the entire competition - and is central to the Blues’ overall attack.
He runs from deep where he brushes off defenders with his swerve and step before turning on the after-burners with his searing pace.
“He’s world class,” Blues coach Leon MacDonald said. “He’s not only fast but he’s powerful, and he’s got an eye for the line and is playing good rugby. What’s that? Six tries in two weeks ... not bad for a winger.
“But yeah, we do (have to manage his minutes). He’s going to have to rest a game very soon. We might programme a midweek game or something like that.”
Ioane forms part of a potent Blues back division, where he has an almost telepathic relationship with equally-dangerous fullback Melani Nanai. The duo were certainly in red-hot form last week against the Highlanders when the Blues snapped a 20-game losing streak against New Zealand opposition. Ioane certainly enjoys playing with his fleet-footed partner Nanai.
“Melani is the best game-breaker we have in Super Rugby,” Ioane said after the Highlanders game. “His footwork is arguably the best in the world, especially in that close-quarter stuff.”
The Stormers are aware of the threat the Blues back division pose, and are particularly working hard on improving their kicking game after it was exposed by the Canes flying three-quarters.
“Each week a lot goes into how we want to kick, and where we want to kick. This weekend will pose a different threat. The Hurricanes are notorious for counter-attacks and love attacking with ball-in-hand and space,” Stormers forwards coach Russell Winter said.
“The Blues are similar. If you give them the ball and space, they will run. They have an outstanding back three. Our plan will definitely be to negate that, not to give them the ball. Their fullback had a good game last week and he can attack from anywhere, so our wingers are definitely are up for the challenge.”@ZahierAdams