Cape Town - Now that a Champions Cup home play-off has been secured, the Stormers set sail for Belfast on Sunday without a number of key figures for Friday’s United Rugby Championship clash against Ulster (9.35pm kickoff).
Springbok lock Marvin Orie was on the plane and will captain the Capetonians at the Kingspan Stadium, but fellow Test stars Steven Kitshoff, Damian Willemse and Frans Malherbe won’t make the trip as they begin their compulsory resting periods.
The Stormers are expected to announce their squad on Monday, but coach John Dobson said that other regulars such as centre Dan du Plessis – who was the man of the match in Saturday night’s 30-16 Champions Cup bonus-point win over Clermont at Cape Town Stadium – will also get a breather this week.
The URC champions are sitting pretty in second position on the standings, so can afford to give game time to some of their youngsters.
He can also involve the likes of Herschel Jantjies, Jean-Luc du Plessis and Evan Roos, who made their comebacks from injury against Clermont, although flyhalf Manie Libbok has been given another week off to fully recover from concussion.
Dobson has confirmed that new lock signing from Exeter Chiefs, Ruben van Heerden, will also be part of the squad to take on Ulster.
But the Stormers coach was delighted by the character shown by his team in the face of a physical onslaught from Clermont in the first half on Saturday.
The French club tackled anything that moved, and were rewarded by English referee Christophe Bradley with several breakdown penalties.
The Stormers had a number of entries into the Clermont 22, but were frustrated by poor handling, unnecessary kicks and laboured clean-outs at the rucks.
The introduction of Roos on his 23rd birthday, Jantjies and Jean-Luc early in the second half, though, sparked the hosts into life, and they gave the Stormers’ loyal fans something to shout about with four tries and a bonus point, as well as a home Champions Cup play-off berth.
The Stormers had to wait for Sunday’s results – especially the evening Toulouse-Munster encounter – to see where they end up on the log and their opponents in the round of 16.
“It looked like the old Evan. At the start of this season, he was heavily marked when he played those games, and it felt very much like the old Evan. I’m very pleased, and that’s a massive asset for us going forward,” Dobson said.
“We live every week with mustwin games and staying alive, and sometimes it’s better to just take a look (from above). If you had said a year-and-a-half ago, URC champions, Champions Cup play-offs at home, it’s a massive credit to this group.”