Johannesburg - Victorious Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is expecting some of his big name players back for Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby derby against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.
According to the supersport.com website, Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers missed the 28-3 win over the Cheetahs at Newlands this past weekend as he rested the sternum injury that plagued him in the build-up to the last Incoming Tours Series Test against Samoa in Pretoria.
As Coetzee reflected afterwards, even if De Villiers had been fit to take his place against the Cheetahs, he probably wouldn’t have done so as the captain’s wife Marlie gave birth to the couple’s second daughter at the weekend.
But De Villiers, now a father second time over, will be ready to play against the Kings, and will lead a team that had confidence significantly boosted by the impressive win over the play-off contenders from Bloemfontein. It certainly was sweet revenge for the Stormers, as they considered themselves unlucky to lose to the Cheetahs through a late penalty in the first round game before their overseas tour.
Also expected back is big blindside flank Rynhardt Elstadt, who can also be accommodated at lock, and Springbok prop Pat Cilliers. You wouldn’t have thought it was necessary if you saw how the depleted Stormers pack faired against a Cheetahs unit that had more current Springboks in it, but Elstadt will be a much needed addition, particularly with the following game, the big derby against the Bulls at Newlands, in mind.
Deon Fourie captained the team while wearing the No 7 shirt against the Cheetahs and did well, but against better teams than the Cheetahs, and the Bulls are on a different level to the Cheetahs, the physicality brought by a hulking flank like Elstadt will be needed.
Talking of flanks, Siya Kolisi appears to have touched another level since making his Springbok debut a few weeks ago, and the Stormers can’t complain about either his form or his level of commitment as they head into the last two matches. Coetzee reckoned that Kolisi’s performance, which he capped with a try in the last quarter, was the best he has seen from his prodigy.
“I don’t think I’ve seen Siya play better than this. He was simply outstanding,” said Coetzee.
“His work-rate was outstanding again, and he defended well too. He was all over the show and defended really well. The loose trio was in sync and did well.”
Some critics slammed the Cheetahs for their kicking orientated approach, but in reality they have relied heavily on chip kicks on attack for most of the season, and it is a massive fallacy that the Cheetahs run and pass every ball.
What happened against the Stormers was that those kicks just never worked out, and the Stormers are a team that likes the opposition to kick at them, which in a sense the Cheetahs were forced to do anyway once it became clear there was no way through the Stormers’ well organised and combative defensive system.
Once he’s not able to run onto his own kicks, someone like Willie le Roux, who ended up starting at fullback due to a late injury to Hennie Daniller, looks an ordinary player, and the Newlands game may have underlined why many still don’t see him as a certain starter for the Springboks against a strong team like the All Blacks and Wallabies despite his pyrotechnics against second tier opposition over the past month.
The win meant little to the Stormers’ title chances – some quite freakish results have to happen for them to come back into the frame – but what it did do was show what might have been had they enjoyed just a bit more luck in some of their earlier games.
Even though they have had a debilitating run of injuries, the Stormers could still have been in the play-offs had they not conceded late defeats to the Cheetahs and Rebels, both of them games the Stormers should have won on the balance of play.
The much maligned pack is also now performing well again, and that is no doubt helped by the return of Eben Etzebeth, and it is interesting to note that some of their best scrumming performances have been turned in since veteran Brok Harris was returned to the mix because of injury. He was cast into the wilderness earlier in the season, but he has done well enough to suggest that Coetzee should be tempted to start with him ahead of the fit again Cilliers against the Kings.
And the same could be said of Scarra Ntubeni, who has had an injury plagued season but started and played well against the Cheetahs as a last minute replacement for Tiaan Liebenberg. Liebenberg is expected to have his back spasm assessed on Monday and will certainly be an important addition for the following match against the Bulls if he is fit by then, but Ntubeni showed again why he is so highly rated.
Apart from his solid scrumming, he was pinpoint with his lineout throwing until midway through the second half, and his contribution was part of the reason that Coetzee lauded his team for their accuracy afterwards.
“I think our basics were outstanding in this game,” said Coetzee.
Indeed. And had that been the case in the first half of the season, the Stormers would probably already be assured of a place in the play-offs now instead of just strong finishing also-rans.