Cape Town - Allister Coetzee spent the whole of last season trying to play down to his team’s prospects to a Cape media too eager to install his Stormers side as champions when the job hadn’t been done, so the upbeat front he put on in Wellington at the weekend was meaningful.
There has been a lot of negativity around the Stormers and Western Province since the resignation of Rassie Erasmus resigned as director of rugby, so Coetzee’s eagerness to grab the opportunity to be positive was almost palpable after the 45-14 win over Boland Cavaliers at a sweltering Boland Stadium. And there was good reason for him to be upbeat for the match showed that while some star players have like Erasmus left the franchise since last season, there is a lot of young talent coming through.
You had to be at the game to understand just how hot it was, so those who watched on television might consider it a bit over the top to suggest it was an excellent game – but for the time of year and the conditions it certainly was an encouraging start for the fringe players against a team that won the Currie Cup first division last season.
“It was 39 degrees before kick-off and I was a bit nervous about that. We consulted with Boland conditioning coach Jorrie Jordaan before the game and we agreed to monitor the situation closely, so I thought the guys coped with the situation really. Fortunately there was a bit of a breeze blowing,” said Coetzee.
“We had frequent water breaks and alerted the players to the importance of staying well hydrated throughout the game. But I was very impressed with the fitness levels of the players and all things considered it was a good contest. Boland certainly provided us with a higher intensity work-out than the university teams have in the corresponding fixture in previous seasons.”
The Stormers team was also a lot more organised than in the corresponding fixtures of recent seasons, and of course they were up against a Boland team that has played together often. Boland did enough in the match to deliver another of Coetzee’s wishes – he wants his players to stay grounded and them to know at this stage that there is still work to do.
“This Boland team is very deadly off turn-over ball and they provided something for our youngsters to learn as they got both their two tries from turn-over ball,” he said.
Nonetheless, it was a comfortable win for the Stormers, who showed pleasing intensity when they took early control of the game, young forwards Eben Etzebeth and Frans Malherbe carrying the ball well and hammering themselves across the advantage line. Etzebeth, who was already an impressive specimen but has now bulked up even more, played most of the game and should have been one of the players to most please Coetzee.
“You know I don’t really like singling out names, particularly after a game of this nature, but Etzebeth, Nizaam Carr and JP du Plessis, while I was also pleased with the way the two flyhalves Burton Francis and Kurt Coleman controlled the game,” said Coetzee.
Asides from Etzebeth and veteran Bolla Conradie, the other stand-out was Du Plessis, a player who went to Australia to play rugby league after finishing school but has now returned to the Cape after a short stint with the Melbourne Rebels. With Jaque Fourie, Johann Sadie and Tim Whitehead all now playing elsewhere, the form shown by Du Plessis and to a lesser extent inexperienced midfield partner Adrian Kritzinger was very encouraging.
“The different centre pairings all impressed me and that is a good thing for it shows we do still have pleasing depth in that area,” concurred the coach.
The Stormers will play the Cheetahs in their next Super Rugby warm-up game - the first of what this year is known as the DHL Series - at Newlands on Friday night.