Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Considering the increasingly punishing schedule
that characterises Super Rugby, you would think a bye weekend would bring with
it various freshening merits.
Strangely this has not always been the case and the
Stormers, in particular, seem concerned about a tendency to come off a week’s
rest stale rather than slick.
“In the past we often haven’t played well after a bye – we
want to rectify that (against the Blues at Newlands on Friday night),” acting
captain Jean de Villiers told a media briefing on Tuesday.
Probed further, the experienced Springbok midfielder said
the team could not pinpoint specific reasons for this phenomenon, although it
may be no bad thing that it is at least on their minds.
Last year, the best-performing SA conference side and
semi-finalists had the rather loathed, essentially useless first-round bye,
which meant they only got stuck into the competition at Newlands in the second
week and had an almighty battle to subdue the Lions, already up and running in
the competition, 19-16 with a stuttering performance.
Perhaps De Villiers is forgetting that when they had their
second bye later in the campaign, they signalled their return to duty by
producing one of their most compelling games of the season in whipping the
But the previous season, the last under the old round-robin
format, the Stormers did falter immediately after a week’s rest, losing their
first tour game 16-15 to the limited Western Force, and the same happened the
year before when they were beaten by the Crusaders after a bye week.
So there is certainly a bit of a history of problems for
them coming out of a break, with some sharpness possibly surrendered inadvertently
as a result -- even if a bye must do wonders for bodily “recovery”.
This season’s second Stormers bye will come, fairly handily,
in early May after completion of their Antipodean tour engagements against the
Highlanders, Crusaders, Reds and Force.
The Stormers predictably named a side for the Blues
encounter featuring Peter Grant at flyhalf rather than the relative rookie Gary
van Aswegen, although the remainder of their line-up retains a pleasingly
settled look for the time being.
All of the rest of the match-day 22 is unchanged from the
combination that edged out the Sharks 15-12 at the death, courtesy of
then-substitute Grant’s awkward-angled, last-gasp penalty.
Coach Allister Coetzee told the briefing the place-kicking
duty for Friday’s game against the New Zealanders would only be finalised after
the captain’s practice on Thursday, although it is possible that Grant and Joe
Pietersen will again share duties depending on field position.
“The Blues are a powerful side, with lots of All Blacks, and
we expect a physical onslaught ... we believe Peter can help us cope with
The Stormers are a bit like the Sharks in being boosted by
the knowledge that a few injured players are in gradual comeback mode: lock
enforcer Rynhardt Elstadt is ready for Vodacom Cup activity and Deon Carstens,
their Bok prop signing from Saracens, will apparently get some 20 minutes at
that level in the tighthead position this weekend.
Coetzee also told Sport24 that captain Schalk Burger’s
rehabilitation process was on track, meaning that he ought to feature at some
stage when the Stormers tour Australasia in early April.
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15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Koster, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Gerhard van den Heever