Stormers troops take a break
Bloemfontein – Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has given his team the week off after they secured a home semi-final with Saturday’s 44-34 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
This week’s quarter-finals will be contested between the Crusaders and Sharks (in Nelson on Saturday), and the Blues and Waratahs (in Auckland on Friday). The Reds and Stormers advanced straight through to the semi-finals as they finished first and second respectively on the overall log.
For the Stormers it’s a welcome rest, especially as they were clearly disadvantaged by the bye in the first round of the tournament. That meant that they have had to play 16 games over the last 17 weekends.
Coetzee confirmed that the Stormers would now have the entire week at their leisure and then start preparing for the Newlands semi-final next Monday. The Crusaders will be the Stormers’ opponents if they beat the Sharks. If not, the Stormers will play the winner of the quarter-final between the Blues and Waratahs.
“The players have the whole week off because they need to be physically and mentally refreshed. They have worked very hard for this and deserve the rest,” said Coetzee.
“The 18th week of the tournament is unchartered territory for everyone and I can see that the players need rest.”
Coetzee also has new challenges to face. Duane Vermeulen, who has excelled at No 8 and is a Springbok contender, will undergo a scan on Monday to determine the seriousness of his knee injury.
The expectation is that he will play no further role in the Stormers’ campaign. Vermeulen was stretchered off the field and was on crutches at the airport on Sunday morning.
Coetzee quite rightly described it as a “body blow” because the Cape side will miss Vermeulen’s work-rate, contribution at the breakdowns and powerful ball carries.
“Our loose-trio has been phenomenal the entire season, but I have to say that Nick Koster makes a big impact every time he is sent on. I just have to think about who we will bring in as the fourth loose forward. Duane’s knee is quite swollen.”
Scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage should be available for the semi-final. Coetzee was delighted with the contributions of rookie scrumhalves Louis Schreuder and Nic Groom, but Peter Grant’s cool head emphasised the value of experienced players in key positions in pressure games.
If everything goes according to plan, Duvenage and Grant will be paired at No 9 and 10 again in the semi-final.
Notwithstanding Vermeulen’s injury, there is a lot to be happy about from a Stormers perspective.
The weekend’s events confirmed the Stormers as the leading regional franchise in South Africa, even though they are not happy with letting in four tries against the Cheetahs.
They will look to address the system errors in their defence ahead of the semi-finals.