Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee admits that he faces a massive decision before finalising his selection, but it looks like he is going to return to his previous back-three configuration for Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final at Newlands.
The Stormers fielded Gio Aplon at fullback last time out against the Cheetahs, which enabled that ace stepper and manufacturer of midfield breaks, Juan de Jongh, to slot into inside centre. Jean de Villiers played on the wing.
It worked a charm, for that was a game where the Stormers placed a massive accent on attack against a Cheetahs team that they feel is always a lot less effective if certain key players are forced to commit themselves to a tackling role.
Carry the ball, carry the ball and carry the ball was the mantra, almost to a ridiculous extent, for the Stormers did get caught in possession a few times in the wrong areas of the field and it might have been more problematic were they not up against a side that slipped so many tackles.
Certainly there were times in that Bloemfontein match where it was reminiscent of the days in the middle of last decade when Carel du Plessis was the coach.
The approach back then was summed up by the line “Don’t worry how many tries they score, we will just score more”. And you did get the feeling that if the Cheetahs scored 70 points, the Stormers would manage to score 78.
But Coetzee is mindful that Saturday’s clash with the mighty Crusaders is a whole different challenge form what his men faced at Vodacom Park, and as it is a semifinal he expects “finals rugby” to prevail.
Apart from which, the Stormers have done their homework on the Crusaders, not that you necessarily need to do too much homework on them to figure out that for all the great tries they score from broken play and turnover ball, kicking is a big part of their strategy.
And this is where the positionally sound Conrad Jantjes comes back into the equation.
Coetzee says he is yet to make his decision, but according to the way the Stormers ran at training on Monday, it might not be too much of a risk if you offered to take poison on Jantjes wearing the No 15 jersey against Crusaders.
Coetzee said before the Cheetahs game that the selection for that match was a horses for courses call, and this will be one too.
“The Crusaders actually kick more than they play ball in hand, and we are very aware of that, and it is one of the reasons we have called in Schalk Brits from Saracens as our loose-forward cover,” said Coetzee.
“You have to make sure that your chase and your cover is organised. And you have to have personnel to implement the plan properly. That’s why Schalk’s role is so important, he understands it, he has done it all season in England.
“Some games I watched, when Schalk was under pressure he kicked the ball 40 to 50 metres into touch. That is the type of player he is.”
Coetzee said he expected the game to be a typical knockout match, with patience being the key virtue in a contest that would probably be decided by a mistake.
“Conrad comes back heavily into consideration in this kind of game,” he agreed.
“Gio has been playing so well from behind, so it really is a difficult choice to make, and it is not an easy call. I am still looking at it and considering what our best option will be.”
But Coetzee knows that whatever he goes with will not be cast in stone, as these days rugby is a 22-man game, and if his initial selection does not work out, he has the bench men to call on should the situation demand it.
“With all these guys you can make a few changes during the game. If Connie starts at fullback, Gio can be there too, depending on the state of the game and what is needed at the time. We’ve got to back our defence, which has been really solid.
"Defence is about workrate. It’s going to be a battle for the gainline, and if you don’t get through, the halfbacks can drop into the pocket. It’s going to be a tactical game.”