Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The return of Peter Grant’s experience has boosted the Stormers’ confidence ahead of their opening Vodacom Super Rugby tour match against the Chiefs.
Gary van Aswegen, for the 12 minutes before he was injured in the match against the Lions, and Lionel Cronje both played well in Grant’s absence due to a knee injury over the four weeks since he sustained the setback against the Reds.
Cronje, in particular, did better than expected, and it could even be argued that his passing game added something to the Stormers’ attacking potential.
However, the steadiness of the regular pivot, which comes about through his years of experience, brings composure to those around him when he is present – not least for his abilities as a reliable goal-kicker and his outstanding defensive game.
Talking to reporters from Auckland, where the Stormers are based until they go through to Hamilton on Friday, coach Allister Coetzee said that his team was confident even though they had lost to the Crusaders at home last week, and Grant’s return only added to that confidence ahead of the opening tour game.
“It is a very strong team now and of course I am very happy to have Peter Grant back in the side,” said Coetzee.
“We are a confident team and that hasn’t changed despite our loss to the Crusaders. We have been playing well, and that was also the case last week (even in defeat), so Peter is returning to a confident side. It’s not that just one man in Peter Grant gives the team confidence, but is a senior player and the way he is able to calm the guys down is great for us.”
But Coetzee would also be the first to acknowledge that maybe this would not be a time to expect too much of Grant, who should be a little rusty after four weeks on the sidelines.
“We mustn’t put pressure on him as he hasn’t played for a while,” said Coetzee.
While what Coetzee says is true, however, he must be secretly hoping that Grant can do a similar thing to what centre Jean de Villiers did when he came back from a recent lay-off, which was also coincidentally four weeks.
De Villiers admitted before the recent match against the Sharks, which was his comeback game, that he was more nervous than usual as he expected to be a bit rusty after four weeks on the sidelines. Before the Sharks match he said that he would just be concentrating on the basics, limiting the flash parts of his game focusing on just being solid.
Yet, admitted with the help of some poor Sharks defence, De Villiers celebrated his return in fine style, scoring a try, creating another and generally turning in one of his most commanding performances in a long time.
Can Grant do the same? He is not in unchartered territory, for there were concerns when he returned from Japan earlier this year that he would take a while to re-adjust to the pace and intensity of Super Rugby, as others before him had.
He only played off the bench in the Stormers’ opening Super Rugby match of 2011 against the Lions, but made a significant impact when he came onto the field and did not put a foot wrong as he helped the Stormers come from behind to win that game in the last minutes. He went on from there to play some fine rugby over the next few weeks before his injury.
He will be looking to make a similar easy transition in a match which Coetzee says he expects to be a “dog-fight”.
15 Mils Muliaina (captain), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13
Richard Kahui, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen
Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard: 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam
Messam, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1
Substitutes: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Sona Taumalolo,
18 Isaac Ross, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Tim
Nanai-Williams, 22 Jackson Willison
Conrad Jantjes, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Jaque Fourie, 12. Jean De Villiers,
11. Bryan Habana, 10. Peter Grant, 9. Ricky Januarie, 8. Duane
Vermeulen, 7. Francois Louw, 6. Schalk Burger (captain), 5. Andries
Bekker, 4. Rynhardt Elstadt, 3. Brok Harris, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Wicus
Substitutes: 16. Tiaan Liebenberg, 17. Steven Kitshoff,
18. De Kock Steenkamp, 19. Anton Van Zyl, 20. Dewaldt Duvenage, 21.
Lionel Cronje, 22. Juan De Jongh