Cape Town - It looks great when you surge into an early lead, but how the Stormers play in the second half will be even more important in tonight’s Champions Cup encounter against London Irish at Cape Town Stadium (7.30pm kick-off).
The last 40 minutes has been a bugbear of the United Rugby Championship winners over the past three weeks of action, and they are determined to turn things around this time.
They led 14-3 at half-time against Clermont in France last week, only to lose 24-14; they were 28-7 up at the break against the Dragons and won 34-26; and against the Scarlets, they went from 29-7 ahead to 36-19.
Coach John Dobson was able to recall Springbok stars Frans Malherbe and Marvin Orie yesterday after they sat out of the French trip to rest, and he will hope that they can provide the necessary leadership and calmness to keep the momentum going in the second half against London Irish.
Centre Dan du Plessis has been given another week to recover despite Dobson saying in midweek that he doesn’t have concussion, which sees Damian Willemse continue at inside centre and Clayton Blommetjies at fullback.
Alapati Leiua has been ruled out with a minor injury, so Angelo Davids is back at right wing, while Paul de Wet will look to kick-start the Stormers attack at scrumhalf.
In the pack, Willie Engelbrecht has been brought in to add some punch to the loose trio on attack and defence.
But there are a couple of fresh faces among the replacements who have to bring the energy in the final quarter to avoid another lapse in intensity against a highly competitive London Irish outfit.
Perhaps the man to spark the Capetonians in the closing stages is Bok scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, who will earn his 50th cap, while Junior Bok speedster Suleiman Hartzenberg has the ability to cut open defences with ball in hand.
We are back at home in front of the Faithful tonight as we take on @londonirish for the first time. #STOvLIR #iamastormer #dhldelivers— DHL Stormers (@THESTORMERS) December 17, 2022
🏟️ DHL Stadium
⏰ 19h30 (SA time)
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But the forwards on the bench – JJ Kotze, Brok Harris, Sazi Sandi, Connor Evans, Junior Pokomela and Marcel Theunissen – need to maintain and even lift the physicality provided by the starters, where Dobson also has to manage the workloads of the Test players ahead of the next two URC games against the Bulls and Lions.
“We’ve got to look at our game minutes, and we’ve gone through Clermont and have got these three really hard games at home.
“You can’t expect Steven Kitshoff to play 200 out of the 240 minutes, so the use of the bench is going to be really important,” the Stormers mentor said.
“We are probably going to use less rotating of the squad members in this period, but within the squad we have to make changes to freshen guys up. This is a very big game for us, apart from it being our first home game in the Champions Cup and historic from that point of view.
“It has been some time since we played at (Cape Town) Stadium, and the team is looking forward to getting out there and making the most of it.”
Kitshoff added: “There is no clear reason why we have performed like that in the second half sometimes, but just on history and how the team performed last year, we’ve got the ability to turn up the heat in the second half.
“So, it might have just been a fluke, lapse of concentration or injuries, but the intensity this week – because of what happened last week – the guys have made a massive mind-shift change in how we approach an 80-minute performance.
“Having a good start is brilliant, but that’s not how you win games – it’s about keeping up the intensity for the majority of the game.”
TEAMS FOR CAPE TOWN STADIUM
STORMERS: 15 Clayton Blommetjies 14 Angelo Davids 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Damian Willemse 11 Leolin Zas 10 Manie Libbok 9 Paul de Wet 8 Hacjivah Dayimani 7 Willie Engelbrecht 6 Deon Fourie 5 Marvin Orie 4 Salmaan Moerat 3 Frans Malherbe 2 Joseph Dweba 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Bench: 16 JJ Kotze 17 Brok Harris 18 Sazi Sandi 19 Connor Evans 20 Junior Pokomela 21 Marcel Theunissen 22 Herschel Jantjies 23 Suleiman Hartzenberg
LONDON IRISH: 15 Ben Loader 14 Lucio Cinti Luna 13 Luca Morisi 12 Benhard Janse van Rensburg 11 Ollie Hassell-collins 10 Paddy Jackson 9 Joe Powell 8 Josh Basham 7 Tom Pearson 6 Matt Rogerson (captain) 5 Adam Coleman 4 Rob Simmons 3 Lovejoy Chawatama 2 Mike Willemse 1 Will Goodrick-clarke.
Bench: 16 Ignacio Ruiz 17 Facundo Gigena 18 Ollie Hoskins 19 Api Ratuniyarawa 20 Chandler Cunningham-south 21 Ben White 22 Rory Jennings 23 Will Joseph.