Stormers rejig squad for vital Ulster clash

A FIERY encounter awaits Ulster and their former Stormers prop Steven Kitshoff tonight. | Shutterstock

A FIERY encounter awaits Ulster and their former Stormers prop Steven Kitshoff tonight. | Shutterstock

Published Mar 30, 2024


THE Stormers props climbed into each other during their scrum sessions despite having a loosehead prop crisis, and this evening a fiery exchange awaits Ulster and Steven Kitshoff.

A win is a non-negotiable for the former United Rugby Championship (URC) champions as they look to gain more momentum ahead of a crucial Champions Cup knockout clash against holders La Rochelle next Saturday.

Ulster also took a knock in their first match on tour in Durban last weekend against a struggling Sharks side, so the visiting Irish side are there for the taking.

Five points will keep the Stormers in the hunt for a home play-off match in the URC, while it will provide a good platform to launch their quarter-final bid in the European tournament.

The Cape side ran in seven tries as they dispatched Edinburgh with ease last weekend, and today (kick-off 7.15pm), they expect a more physical match-up, but judging by their rejigged backline, things can spark up in space.

Springbok Warrick Gelant is back, with Damian Willemse shifting to inside centre and Dan du Plessis partnering him at No 13.

There are more changes to the front rankers as Neethling Fouche is back at tighthead and Joseph Dweba at hooker to counter the scrummaging prowess of Kitshoff and company, while Willie Engelbrecht and Hacjivah Dayimani are at the side of the scrum to add to the grunt of the loose forwards. Dayimani will run out in his 50th game for the inaugural champions.

Stormers assistant coach Dawie Snyman said he had to close his eyes this week when the players were scrummaging against each other.

“There was no holding back. The forwards have one gear, and that is flat out,” Snyman said.

“We can’t protect, we have to prepare. I don’t really watch the forwards, they do their thing and I just close my eyes.”

About the changes to the side and players who performed last week, but missed out on selection for today, Snyman said it’s all about the squad.

A player like Nama Xaba, who stepped up in the absence of veteran Deon Fourie, hooker Andre-Hugo Venter, and new centre Wandisile Simelane did not make the squad for today, although they were all excellent in the last game, and they are not out of the reckoning at all.

“If you’re in the one week, and next week you’re benching, you are still part of the squad. We don’t only see match scenarios as opportunities (for players to get in the squad), but training too,” said Snyman.

“There will not be pressure on the players to perform (to stay in the squad). Everyone wants to play the big games, but we also want to make sure that if there is an injury this weekend, we have sufficient cover and for instance, three hookers who are game ready.”

Ulster will provide the perfect mixture of physicality and backline play to test the Stormers in all departments they want to be tested. Matches between the two sides in Cape Town have gone down to the wire, and Snyman said they don’t expect anything different.

But, at the same time, they won’t over-analyse what the Irish club will bring.

Stormers captain Salmaan Moerat described their opponents as “the most physical” of the four Irish outfits.

“Ulster will always have a very good set piece and they have some variation too. They are a multi-faced team, so we will expect that. They can keep the ball in hand and go through phases, but they have a proper scrum and kicking game as well.

“With all due respect to the other (Irish) teams, they seem the most physical and like to impose themselves on their opponents. It will be a bit personal for them considering how the Irish went against the Boks in the World Cup.”

Stormers: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Paul de Wet, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Willie Engelbrecht, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Salmaan Moerat (capt), 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Brok Harris

Replacements: 16 JJ Kotze, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Adre Smith, 20 Ben-Jason Dixon, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Ben Loader