Cape Town - French clubs like Clermont are always looking for a “big collision”, but Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff believes that his team are well prepared for what’s coming their way in Saturday’s Champions Cup showdown at Stade Marcel Michelin (5.15pm SA time kickoff).
Clermont are one of the premier European teams, and have picked a top-class side filled with internationals for their clash against the URC champions.
But coach John Dobson rolled out most of his heavyweights as well when naming his team yesterday, with Kitshoff joined by Damian Willemse, Manie Libbok, Deon Fourie and Salmaan Moerat as part of the current Springbok contingent in the Cape side.
Willemse has taken major strides forward as a flyhalf for the Springboks, but will wear the No 15 jersey today.
“The reason he’s at fullback… Blomme (Clayton Blommetjies) has played a lot, and we’ve got a plan for tomorrow where we think territory is going to be very important, and Gaza (Damian Willemse) is very disciplined in sticking to a plan like that. He is a game-driver like that,” Dobson said from France yesterday.
“He could do a similar job at 12, but he can be more influential in our plan for tomorrow at 15. The thing about Damian is that he will play wherever the team wants him… he’s got no issue. I think he’s really, really good at 15, 12 and now playing good Test rugby at 10.
“He is a real treasure for us, but for tomorrow’s plan, he fits into exactly what we are trying to do.”
The Stormers coach added that Samoan international Alapati Leiua’s selection at right wing was justified by his impressive performances in that position for his country during the Autumn Nations Series in November.
But it’s the forwards that will have to grind hard to ensure that such an exciting backline get front-foot ball.
Clermont boast some imposing figures such as locks Sebastien Vahaamahina and Tomas Lavanini, while captain Arthur Iturria leads a formidable loose trio alongside Alexandre Fischer and South African Jacobus van Tonder.
“If you look at French rugby over the years and how they are playing at the moment, they have a big pack of forwards and it’s all about the gain-line – confrontational battles, with pods off nine or 10, always looking for a big collision,” Kitshoff said.
“So, especially in the Champions Cup’s way of play, it’s almost kind of a knockout from the beginning as you have four games before the playoffs, so you need to win your games to qualify.
“It’s going to come down to a massive set-piece battle – scrums, lineouts, mauling, you are going to see a lot of that. Whichever team dominates there is normally the team that comes out with the points at the end.
“It’s as close to international rugby as you are going to get, so the okes are up for the challenge. And looking at Clermont’s history, the size of the forwards they pick and the way that they want to play, it’s almost similar to the international (France) style.”
Dobson is expecting a real scrap, but also doesn’t want his attacking players to go into their shells.
“We’re going to fight. One thing this team’s got is character and resilience, as we’ve seen over the last year and a bit,” the Stormers mentor said.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better occasion. It’s very tough on paper, but to come to such a perennially great European club, who won 63 or 67 games in a row at home, in the middle of December… To play against them with the internationals is a great experience for us.
“We just want to make people at home proud, and I think our plans are going to allow us to do that.
“But we’ve got no illusions as to what’s coming our way. If you look at their lock combination of Lavanini and Sebastian Vahaamahina, it’s powerful. It’s going to be close to Test rugby, and we’re excited.”
Teams For Clermont
Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse 14 Alapati Leiua 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Dan du Plessis 11 Leolin Zas 10 Manie Libbok 9 Herschel Jantjies 8 Hacjivah Dayimani 7 Ernst van Rhyn 6 Deon Fourie 5 Gary Porter 4 Salmaan Moerat 3 Neethling Fouche 2 Joseph Dweba 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Bench: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter 17 Ali Vermaak 18 Sazi Sandi 19 Ben-Jason Dixon 20 Marcel Theunissen 21 Junior Pokomela 22 Paul de Wet 23 Clayton Blommetjies.
Clermont: 15 Alex Newsome 14 Damian Penaud 13 Samuel Ezeala 12 Apisai Naqalevu 11 Alivereti Raka 10 Jules Plisson 9 Sebastien Bezy 8 Jacobus van Tonder 7 Alexandre Fischer 6 Arthur Iturria (captain) 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina 4 Tomas Lavanini 3 Cristian Ojovan 2 Yohan Beheregaray 1 Etienne Falgoux.
Bench: 16 Benjamin Boudou 17 Giorgi Beria 18 Davit Kubriashvili 19 Thibaud Lanen 20 Killian Tixeront 21 Baptiste Jauneau 22 Anthony Belleau 23 Cheik Tiberghien.