Cape Town - Stormers captain Schalk Burger says he is happy to take the underdog tag with his team to Loftus Versfeld for Saturday’s Super Rugby derby against the Bulls, but is not writing off the chances of his inexperienced side causing an upset, the supersport.com website reports.
The Stormers are going to Pretoria with a much changed match-day squad following two separate waves of injuries that have decimated them this week. On Monday it was announced that the likes of regular skipper Jean de Villiers, loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff, wing Kobus van Wyk, reserve lock Jurie van Vuuren and possibly tighthead prop Frans Malherbe would be missing because of injury.
On Wednesday the unavailability of Malherbe was confirmed, but so was that of Oliver Kebble, who was set to replace Kitshoff, and Michael Rhodes, the lock who was so impressive in the win against the Highlanders the previous week.
It means the Stormers go with a lock pairing made up of players who played Under-21 rugby last season, while Peter Grant has been shifted to inside centre. There are no less than four complete newcomers to Super Rugby if you count the players coming in on the bench.
Burger agrees that the above scenario leaves his team up against it, but at the same time he reckons the vibrancy brought by the young players coming in will energise his side and the challenge of beating the Bulls at Loftus will be one they embrace.
“Obviously it is going to be a very tough task for us to win at Loftus because the Bulls are a good side and don’t often lose at home,” said Burger.
“The problem with having so many changes is that it means you have to spend much time during the week trying to adjust things. The new players and combinations need to be brought up to speed on the game plan and the systems, and a lot of additional energy has been devoted to that this week.
“However, one thing I can tell you is that the guys don’t require too much motivation going up to Loftus. For someone like Jean Kleyn, who is playing his first Super Rugby game, it couldn’t be scripted better. He is playing against Victor Matfield. For him that is a boyhood dream come true. I was in that situation when I played my first game against Owen Finegan at Newlands.
“It’s a great starting point, playing against probably the greatest modern lock forward, and you are a youngster making your debut for the Stormers.”
It’s a big game too for Kleyn’s lock partner Ruan Botha. Although Botha has played a clutch of Super Rugby matches now, and he did represent the Lions on occasion during the 2012 Super Rugby season, this will be the first time that he will be calling the lineout from the kick-off in a Super Rugby match.
However both Burger and coach Allister Coetzee have faith in the young former national age-group star, and one good omen is that the Botha called the lineout in a pre-season friendly against the Bulls in Polokwane, and the Stormers won that game.
“Ruan is a highly promising player and he has played most of his rugby at No 5 lock. We have two big targets to aim at in the lineouts and the pair we have playing together in this match did well for the Western Province Under-21 side last year so hopefully they can just take that partnership to a higher level,” said Coetzee.
Burger reckons the game will be an interesting character test for the team.
“Look, we’ve battled this season and are trying our best. Last weekend was a marked improvement in performance for us and there was a good energy about the team,” said Burger.
“This weekend we want to take it a step further. It’s a long season, and when it’s not going well, it’s tough. But we need to turn this thing around. For the young guys it will be a big character test. But in every game you play, you play to win. We believe that we can win, although we know to do that we will have to play high quality rugby for a long period of time.”
Kick-off for Saturday's game is scheduled for 19:10.
15. Jurgen Visser, 14. Akona Ndungane, 13. JJ Engelbrecht, 12. Jan Serfontein, 11. Bjorn Basson, 10. Handré Pollard, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8. Grant Hattingh, 7. Jacques du Plessis, 6. Jono Ross, 5. Victor Matfield (captain), 4. Paul Willemse, 3. Marcel van der Merwe, 2. Callie Visagie, 1. Dean Greyling
Substitutes: 16. Bongi Mbonambi, 17. Werner Kruger, 18. Morné Mellett, 19. Jacques Engelbrecht, 20. Wimpie van der Walt, 21. Rudy Paige, 22. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 23. William Small-Smith
15. Jaco Taute, 14. Damian de Allende, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Peter Grant,11. Cheslin Kolbe, 10. Kurt Coleman, 9. Nic Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 7. Schalk Burger (captain), 6. Nizaam Carr, 5. Ruan Botha, 4. Jean Kleyn, 3. Pat Cilliers, 2. Scarra Ntubeni, 1. Brok Harris
Substitutes: 16. Stephan Coetzee, 17. Alistair Vermaak, 18. Martin Dreyer, 19. Siya Kolisi, 20. Deon Fourie, 21. Dylon Frylinck, 22. Michael van der Spuy, 23. Devon Williams