Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – So much for suggestions that the Stormers might
be tempted to just step off the pedal a little, strategically, and rest some
key players for their Super Rugby meeting with the Crusaders in Christchurch on
Instead the unbeaten log-leaders’ side to tackle the
seven-time champions bristles with all the fit bankers at their disposal,
particularly in the pack.
Two of their most valuable but overworked forwards last
season, Andries Bekker and Duane Vermeulen, both of whom almost inevitably
succumbed to long-term injury toward the end of the campaign, were whispered by
some scribes this week to be possibly in line for a break from starting duty
against the ‘Saders.
But the stalwarts are very much summoned to arms this
weekend as the Stormers clearly wish to do everything they can to retain winning
momentum and perhaps only tinker with their ranks more meaningfully for the
(arguably) lesser tour tasks across the Tasman in Australia – against the Reds
and Force respectively.
The only reason that backline game-breaker Gio Aplon does
not start on Saturday, and Nick Koster is not considered for the bench, is that
both picked up knocks in the commendable first-up tour victory over the
Highlanders in Dunedin.
For the rest,
Allister Coetzee and his co-strategists have stuck with wheeling out their big
guns, with Brok Harris’s superior experience and known strong donkeywork-rate
earning him the nod over developing tighthead Frans Malherbe so that the prop
combination does not look too “rookie” against the mighty-scrumming Crusaders.
Interestingly, this match is just beginning to shape as a
likely assault of the home team’s powerful scrummage – a cornerstone of their
clear-cut semi-final triumph at Newlands last year, let’s not forget – against
a multi-option Stormers lineout.
So whilst the Franks brothers, Wyatt Crockett and others in
the ‘Saders front five no doubt relish the chance for as much “crouch, touch,
pause, engage” as possible – albeit against a rival eight believed to have
stiffened its act in this department in 2012 – expect the Stormers to be happy
enough for the ball to go out of play and an array of tall timber to either win
their own ball comfortable or pilfer some takes on Corey Flynn’s throw.
The Stormers lineout does bristle with options, given that
the physically unrivalled, 2.08m Bekker stays integral to plans on Saturday and
there are effectively two other locks as target options for hooker Tiaan
Liebenberg in the shape of Eben Etzebeth and Rynhardt Elstadt, albeit that the
latter is having a stint back at blindside flank.
No 8 Vermeulen is also a quality lineout factor, so the
visitors will not expect to play second fiddle at all in this area of play.
They will also be aware that the Crusaders, a little iffy and
inconsistent in overall terms in early-season, are currently adapting to life
without their own long-time hard man of the second row, Brad Thorn.
The 37-year-old World Cup medal-winner last year is having a
twilight career in the less demanding environment of Japan, plus a short-term
deal with Ireland’s Leinster.
His absence may be just one reason why the Crusaders
currently sport an insecure three-wins-and-three-losses record, and will be in
catch-up trouble if they lose this one ...
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