Cape Town - Stormers coach Allister Coetzee
says he will stick with his policy of continuity in selection, but don’t rule out the possibility of a couple of unforced changes to his team for Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby clash with the Chiefs at Newlands.
According to the supersport.com website, the showdown with last year’s champions – this match is effectively one between the top two teams from the 2012 league phase – has become more crucial for the Stormers now that they have lost two consecutive matches and have just one solitary bonus point to show from their effort so far. They’ve lost two matches, which is as many as they lost in the whole of the league stage of last year’s competition.
At least after the most recent game against the Sharks, which ended in a 12-6 defeat, there weren’t any aspersions cast on the intensity and energy levels of the Stormers team like there were after the 25-17 defeat to the Vodacom Bulls the week before. The Kings Park game was about small margins, it was a typical derby arm-wrestle, and Coetzee was right when he said afterwards that it could have gone away.
Perhaps the one area where the Sharks did have a significant and perhaps in the end match winning advantage was in the set-scrums, which has long been an Achilles heel for the Stormers. This happens to be the one phase that Coetzee probably can’t do too much about as aside from injured hooker Tiaan Liebenberg there aren’t too many other options he can turn to.
Liebenberg will undergo a fitness test this week and Coetzee, speaking after the Sharks game, did not rule out the possibility that he will be in the mix for the match against the Chiefs. The experienced Liebenberg was a Springbok last year and he is a better than average scrumming hooker, so his return, if it did happen, would make a difference.
However, after not playing since the final Currie Cup league match against the Cheetahs last October, Liebenberg wouldn’t make an immediate return to the starting team even if he is 100 percent ready to go.
Frans Malherbe started ahead of Springbok prop Pat Cilliers, recently recruited from the Lions, and if anything, the scrumming got worse when Cilliers came on. So swopping the props again isn’t going to make any difference, and in terms of promise, Malherbe, who is in his early 20s, probably has a lot more potential going forward than the mobile Cilliers has.
The Stormers lineout was a lot better than against the Bulls, but Coetzee might have been disappointed they did not dominate the Sharks more. The lineout battle ended pretty even, whereas this was the phase where Western Province put themselves on the road to victory in last year’s Currie Cup final. Eben Etzebeth is a couple of weeks away from returning to the playing field, so the second row is unlikely to change, at least until Schalk Burger makes his intended return after the bye and Rynhardt Elstadt can move to No 4 lock.
It is at the back that Coetzee has things to think about, and flyhalf should come under particular scrutiny now that Peter Grant, long the first choice for the Stormers, has had some game time. Coetzee hinted on Saturday night that Grant could be back in the No 10 this week.
“I was happy with the greater composure that Elton Jantjies showed in this game but it is good that we have Peter Grant coming back and that we can turn to him,” said Coetzee.
Jantjies certainly does add something to the Stormers’ kicking game, and may well have been responsible for the match-winning score had Gio Aplon managed to hold onto a perfectly directed cross-field kick in the first half. In a game of such small margins, a try then might well have been a killer blow for the Sharks similar to the one that Juan de Jongh scored in the domestic final last October.
Jantjies’ tactical game was spot on but he still perhaps made too many errors for comfort, and against the Chiefs the Stormers might well be in need of Grant’s ability to attack the gainline not to mention is excellent defensive game.
And then of course there is De Jongh, who was set to return for the Sharks game after recovering from a hamstring injury but was held back as a precautionary measure. Coetzee said then that if it was a semi-final De Jongh would have played – well, if they lose to the Chiefs the situation will be quite desperate for the Stormers so maybe it’s time for Coetzee to start thinking of these matches as semifinals.
Given the power and bulk of the Chiefs out wide, Coetzee might also do worse if De Jongh does return than thinking of a possible switch of position for Damian de Allende rather than dropping him out of the team completely. If Jaco Taute returns to fullback this week he will add the bulk that is missing from the Stormers back three, but if he doesn’t, then the Stormers could be in trouble if they go into the game with the same small back three that they did against the Sharks.
Not many people realise that one of the reasons the Stormers have been reluctant to spread the ball since the departure of Sireli Naqelevuki is that they get too easily turned over out wide, and against a Kiwi team this can be a particular problem. De Allende is a big player and he made his debut for WP on the wing so while unlikely, it might not be a bad idea for Coetzee to take a horses for courses policy and select him ahead of Aplon for this match.