CAPE TOWN – The Stormers have been boosted with the return of Springboks Eben Etzebeth and Damian Willemse as they go searching for that elusive win on New Zealand soil on Saturday against the Blues at Eden Park.
Robbie Fleck’s team have not won in New Zealand in 11 attempts.
“We have one game left in New Zealand and it’s all about getting that win in New Zealand. We want to leave on a high,” Fleck told the media from Auckland on Thursday morning.
The Bok duo’s return is part of six changes to the team that narrowly lost to the Hurricanes last week in Wellington. Willemse comes in at fullback, with Dillyn Leyds shifting to the left wing and Dan du Plessis back at outside centre for Ruhan Nel. SP Marias drops down to the replacement bench and is joined by flyhalf Joshua Stander.
There are two rotational switches up front, with Jaco Coetzee at No.8 ahead of Juarno Augustus and Wilco Louw at tighthead prop, while a fit-again Etzebeth comes into the second row in place of the injured JD Schickerling. Utility forward Cobus Wiese will be among the replacements after Salmaan Moerat was not considered this week due to the head injury sustained last week.
Schickerling has returned to Cape Town following his shoulder injury and will be out for at least three weeks.
Etzebeth’s return is a massive fillip for the Stormers for the Bok lock is a colossal force in the tight five. After missing out last week due to failing his concussion test, there’s no doubt he will be eager to get stuck right in.
“Eben is a big player for us. He is an experienced campaigner. Having him on the team sheet brings a lot of confidence to our team,” Fleck said.
“He is 100%. We pushed quite hard last week, so he is was raring to go by Monday. He is ready.”
Meanwhile, Blues coach Leon McDonald has kept star winger Rieko Ioane going for one more week despite the All Black flyer playing five Super Rugby matches in a row.
Under New Zealand Rugby regulations, Ioane was due a rest week but the 22-year-old will line-up against the Stormers.
McDonald has also retained the vastly experienced Ma'a Nonu at No 12 despite the availability of Sonny Bill Williams. The latter missed last week’s win over the Highlanders due to his visits to the families of the deceased in Christchurch and was expected to run out against the Stormers this week.
“It was a tight call, a really tough call,” MacDonald said. “I thought Sonny was one of our better players against the Sunwolves, especially with his leadership. And then Ma'a gets an opportunity and his leadership was fantastic and he put in his best performance of the year.”
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@ZaahierAdams