Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Playing a full-blooded derby against the Bulls on the Highveld is daunting at the best of times, so doing it in the potentially lung-busting first real-deal game of the season could present special challenges to the Stormers.
After all, a relatively curtailed pre-season programme - Cheetahs away and a humble Boland side at Cape Town Stadium - will only have gone some way to readying last season’s SA conference winners for the Super Rugby clash in hostile territory on Friday (19:10 kick-off).
The Stormers will also be filtering back to top-flight combat several players who saw their 2012 seasons end notably prematurely by injury ... the likes of Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi
, Andries Bekker
and substitutes Nizaam Carr and Dewaldt Duvenage
quickly come to mind.
Most of them saw little or no Currie Cup activity as a result of such setbacks, so it may take a bit of time for them to reach optimum levels of stamina in Super Rugby 2013 after many months of inactivity.
But Springbok captain Jean de Villiers - quickly re-assuming the Stormers’ reins, in the ongoing absence of intended skipper Schalk Burger
- is upbeat, dismissing a suggestion by Sport24 at Monday’s media briefing that sufficient “gas in the tank” may be a problem for the visitors at Loftus.
“I think we will (have enough); we did a lot of running in pre-season. It is different playing up there, of course, but playing at night will probably help a bit.
“Once the adrenaline starts going, you don’t even think about (tiredness). In saying that, I think we have a quality bench for the game, and hopefully they will make a massive impact as well.
“A lot was said about a long season last year, and here we are, back into another one. But every time you get to this stage of the season (the start of competition-proper) everyone gets excited about what lies ahead.
“It’s a tough start for us, but you could see the change in mood (this week), the training, everybody just upbeat and really looking forward to the game on Friday.”
De Villiers was asked how much the attitude in the team had changed about trips to Loftus, considering successive wins there since the advent of conference system in 2011.
“I think our overall attitude to playing away from home has improved a helluva lot. If you look at our track record over the last four to five years, it’s been really good away.
“If anything, we’ve probably been disappointing at home, in crucial games. Loftus will always be a challenge for any team going there ... the altitude, they’ll get a good crowd in, and they’re a quality side.
“It’s very early to talk about winning this competition, but you have to beat the best (to do so), and it doesn’t come much tougher than winning at Loftus.”
The veteran centre conceded that Burger - now only possibly expected back for round four of the Stormers’ programme, after a bye - would be missed for a game like this one.
“Schalk is missed whenever he’s not playing; his strength as a leader, a player, just his brutality he brings to a pack.”
But with his more regular midfield partner Juan de Jongh also on the early 2013 injury list, De Villiers (who will play at outside centre) is looking forward to nursing Super Rugby debutant Damian de Allende through the Loftus clash.
“Damian is a great player; you wouldn’t think he is playing in his first Super Rugby game. He enjoys being in this environment and he’s flipping good at what he does. That’s a fine quality to have, and I am quite excited about playing alongside him.
“He’s got a really good pass, and the same with Elton (Jantjies) at ten. It opens up opportunities out wide, and with our back three of Jaco Taute, Gio Aplon and Bryan Habana
there ought to be plenty of (scope) for that.
“I’ve played ‘outside’ before for the Stormers and also for the Boks last year, and it’s something I am comfortable with. Looking at the players we have, it’s the best mix for this weekend.”
What does De Villiers make of the 2013 Bulls?
“They’ll be just as psyched as we are, and like every single team in the competition will say they’ve had a good pre-season before they even get going in Super Rugby!
“They have a lot to play for as well. It makes for a great match.”Teams:Bulls:
15. Jaco Taute, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Bryan Habana
, 10. Elton Jantjies
, 9. Nic Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen
, 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 6. Siya Kolisi
, 5. Andries Bekker
, 4. De Kock Steenkamp, 3. Pat Cilliers, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Frans Malherbe, 18. Don Armand, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Dewaldt Duvenage
, 21. Gerhard van den Heever, 22. Joe Pietersen
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