Do-or-die for Stormers in crucial home URC games

FRANS Malherbe during the Stormers training session as he returns into the starting lineup after a five-month injury. | BackpagePix

FRANS Malherbe during the Stormers training session as he returns into the starting lineup after a five-month injury. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 23, 2024


AFTER almost five months on the sidelines, double World Cup winner Frans Malherbe is back for the Stormers as he bids to regain his match fitness ahead of the international season.

The seasoned prop returns today against a strong Edinburgh scrum in the Cape side’s first home clash in months as they will look to break into the top eight of the United Rugby Championship (URC) again.

After a loss to the Bulls in their last game – a first against their Pretoria arch-rivals in the competition – Malherbe will be primed to anchor the scrum and make an impact in his time on the field.

Another welcome return for the former URC champions in their first game in months in the DHL Stadium (kick-off 5:05 pm) is that of captain Salmaan Moerat to the starting lineup. He’s been plagued by injuries at the start of this season, but after a strong display against the Bulls, he makes his way back into the starting team for this must-win clash.

There is no Deon Fourie (rib injury) or Warrick Gelant (knee), though, and the absence of the World Cup winners will be felt, but the versatile Damian Willemse will do duty as fullback, making the shift from the midfield.

John Dobson, Stormers head coach, said the next two home games – against Edinburgh and Ulster – are absolutely critical.

“The Stormers being ninth on the log is not where we want to be according to the standards we’ve set ourselves over the last couple of years.

“La Rochelle (in the Champions Cup in April) will be a nice shootout. But these two games are do-or-die stuff in terms of us moving up the log. They are pressure games these next two. We’ve highlighted two aspects of our game – maul defense and secureness under the high kicks – that we have to be better at, or risk the same happening that went down at Loftus against the Bulls.”

Edinburgh will be without key international players such as winger Duhan van der Merwe and prop Pierre Schoeman, while scrumhalf Ali Price will also not take on the inaugural URC winners.

But tighthead WP Nel, playing in his 300th club game, and fullback Emiliano Bofelli, are but two threats the Stormers will have to keep in check.

Dobson is keen to see the likes of Malherbe, flanker Nama Xaba and centre Wandisile Simelane go in this clash. The return of Lizo Gqoboka off the bench, together with Neethling Fouché and hooker Joseph Dweba, will add firepower to the Stormers’ scrum in the second half.

“If we get Frans to halftime, we will have done well. The reason we did not start him, Neethling has been our best player this season, but we couldn't go the other way around.

“If Neethling started and went down in five minutes, you would have to ask Frans to go 75 minutes. Whereas the other way around, if Frans goes down inside five minutes with an injury, Neethling can go 75, he’s done 80 minutes in Durban. To have our leader in Salmaan back is also great. He would’ve been captain even if Deon was fit. His work rate and physicality, he’s a big figure for us.

“We are not too worried about what Edinburgh will bring, but we want to get those two things (mauls and contestable kicks) right, even if it suits how they want to play.”

Ulster, with Bok and former Stormer Steven Kitshoff in tow, heads down to Cape Town next weekend and if the Stormers can't gain any momentum today, they’ll be there for the picking.

After playing away from their supporters for a while and losing to the Bulls at Loftus, they have some making up to do. A forwards-dominated display is what the DHL Stadium will want, coupled with some exciting running rugby from the backs.

If the Stormers can’t deliver that, it could be a long afternoon for the home side.

Stormers XV: 15. Damian Willemse, 14. Suleiman Hartzenberg, 13. Wandisile Simelane, 12. Dan du Plessis, 11. Leolin Zas, 10. Manie Libbok, 9. Paul de Wet, 8. Evan Roos, 7. Ben-Jason Dixon, 6. Nama Xaba, 5. Ruben van Heerden, 4. Salmaan Moerat (captain), 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Andre-Hugo Venter, 1. Brok Harris.

Bench: 16. Joseph Dweba, 17. Lizo Gqoboka, 18. Neethling Fouche, 19. Connor Evans, 20. Hacjivah Dayimani, 21. Herschel Jantjies, 22. Jurie Matthee, 23. Ben Loader.