Auckland - According to SuperSport's website, Stormers captain Jean de Villiers says it is hard to distinguish between a full-strength and under-strength team anymore given how the players who stand in for first choice players tend to step up to the plate.
However, the inside centre is nonetheless pleased with the position his team are in as they start to get players back from injury and head towards the full-strength unit they haven’t been all season. With Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth coming into the match day squad as a reserve, and Elton Jantjies also on the bench, the Stormers are almost at full muster – which De Villiers reckons is the opposite situation to this time last year.
“Last time we were on tour was when we started to lose players, so now it is a good position for us, much better than back then. It is just now up to the players who are coming back to produce what is expected of them,” said De Villiers by teleconference call from Auckland after coach Allister Coetzee named a team that includes three changes for Friday’s Super Rugby clash with the Blues.
“These days it is easy to forget what the full-strength team is supposed to look like because the guys who come in tend to do so well that later forget that you’re not at full-strength. I suppose that says a lot about the players who have come in. It is good to have Siya Kolisi back this week but Rynhardt Elstadt did well for us at No 6 against the Hurricanes and Michael Rhodes, who Rynhardt replaces this week because of injury, was good in the matches he played.”
With Dewaldt Duvenage and Gary van Aswegen being retained in their positions, the Stormers are getting a bit of continuity at halfback for the first time this season, and that’s another thing that the skipper is pleased about.
“We have often lost tactical games played in the sort of weather we experienced last week (in Palmerston North) and yet this time we actually won the tactical game, and a lot of that was down to the play of Dewaldt and Gary, as well as Joe Pietersen at fullback,” he said.
“We don’t know what the weather is going to do on Friday. We have heard it will be dry, but we’ve also heard it might be wet. It was a lovely day today (Wednesday), one of the best days weatherwise I have ever experienced in New Zealand. But it is good to know that we have the players who can deal with whatever weather materializes.”
Indeed, given the way the Blues like to abandon structure in pursuit of an attacking game, the Stormers will probably be favourites if it was wet. If it’s dry, De Villiers knows his team’s defensive effort is going to have to be better than it was against the Hurricanes, who cut the Stormers defensive line too often for comfort.
“They’ve got a good mix of exciting young talent and experience, with Piri Weepu and Rene Ranger bringing the experience. They’ve got players who can run and step, and they don’t seem to like structure, so we know we are going to have to do a lot of tackling. The challenge will be to make sure that we make completed tackles or we know we could be in trouble.”
De Villiers said the reason that the Blues were able to sometimes get away without being too structured was down to the commitment of the Auckland team’s playing group.
“I think last year hurt them a lot and they are trying to make up for that. They also have a good coach in John Kirwan, and I think they’ve done really well with what they have been doing. They have a quality backline that can hurt you. Even though they don’t like structure, they haven’t conceded a lot of tries. In fact they’re just behind us when it comes to tries conceded.
“Normally attacking teams leak a lot of tries but not these guys. But we’ve had good results against them and we almost see this as the big game of the year. We haven’t even mentioned pressure, which wouldn’t be in our thought process anyway. But we do realise the position we’re in. It makes every game an important one from you on. If we slip up in the next couple of weeks we’ll find it very tough.
“Having said that, the log is getting more jammed in the middle, with a lot of what you could call funny results every single weekend. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the points you need to squeeze into the play-off bracket was a bit lower this year.”