Cape Town - There may have been a lot of tinkering ahead of the Sunwolves game, but Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has revealed his strongest hand ahead of Saturday's Super Rugby clash against the Bulls in Pretoria.
All season Fleck has been in the process of figuring out his best combinations, and the disappointing 17-17 draw against the Japanese Super Rugby debutants last weekend seems to have made that picture a lot clearer.
Fleck has resorted back to the tried and tested, and for the first time this season he was vocal in the build-up to the game on the pecking order that has taken shape in certain areas of the field.
His loose trio, for starters, has a far more settled feel to it this weekend.
Against the Sunwolves Ryhnardt Elstadt was given the No 6 jersey in an experiment that was one of many things that simply never worked on the day, but against the Bulls Nizaam Carr, Siya Kolisi and Schalk Burger will be reunited.
"We had a look at Rynhardt last week at No 6 and we felt that for this game this is our best loose trio," said Fleck.
"This is a loose trio that I’m starting to feel comfortable with, but in saying that (Sikhumbuzo) Notshe has done exceptionally well this season and he’s fighting hard for places there.
"With Rynhardt, the Sunwolves game allowed us to have a look at him there.
"But I’m comfortable now with him playing that role at No 4, but he does offer us an extra option at loose forward as the game progresses."
Fleck also welcomes back towering Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth to partner Pieter-Steph du Toit in the second row in what is his first-choice lock pairing, while Bongi Mbonambi returns to replace Scarra Ntubeni at hooker.
"It was always the intention to bring Bongi back into the mix for this game. He’s playing exceptional rugby at the moment," said Fleck.
Fleck also revealed where he stood on the scrumhalf battle at the Stormers, where Nic Groom comes back into the starting line-up for Louis Schreduer.
"Groomie is the No 1 scrumhalf in the setup," the coach said bluntly.
The obvious loss is co-captain Juan de Jongh to a hamstring strain, but the Stormers do welcome back young wing Leolin Zas from suspension.
"We missed his finishing skills and his speed," Fleck said of the 20-year-old Zas.
"For a young kid he’s had an exceptional season this year. It was a tough two week break for him but he’s worked hard on his fitness and he’ll be better off for it."
A loss at home to the Waratahs and then that dreadful draw in Singapore has left the race for playoff places wide open in the South African Group, and victory on Saturday has all of a sudden become vital for the Stormers if they are to secure a home quarter-final.
Whether or not he wanted to do so this early in the campaign, Fleck has been forced into playing his strongest hand.
15 SP Marais, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Substitutes: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Deon Stegmann, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dries Swanepoel
15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe (captain), 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble
Substitutes: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Rynhardt Elstadt, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Huw Jones