Johannesburg - Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has given a strong indication that Peter Grant will return to the No 10 jersey for the first time in over a year when the Cape side tackle the Brumbies in a Vodacom Super Rugby match in Canberra on Saturday night.
According to the supersport.com website, Grant has played as a replacement, and a more direct approach to the attacking game that netted two tries coincided with his arrival on the field in the second half of the last match against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
However, Grant was injured for most of last season and made only a brief appearance on the replacement’s bench, so it has been a while since he has been the starting pivot.
Coetzee hinted broadly that Grant would be selected when he spoke about the skills of former Western Province flyhalf Matt Toomua, now playing for the Brumbies and also a regular feature in the Australian national team.
Toomua led the impressive Brumbies defensive effort against the Waratahs last time out, and Coetzee, in a teleconference call with Cape rugby writers, let slip that he was looking forward to Toomua and Grant facing one another.
“He (Toomua) is not scared to have a go himself, so it’s going to be an interesting battle at No 10, should Peter be selected there,” said Coetzee.
He did then add “Even if Demetri is at 10” but he had said enough and it would appear the cat, as it were, has been let out of the bag. Grant at flyhalf is a confidence boosting prospect for a Stormers team in desperate need for a lift after two successive defeats in New Zealand and a played/won ration that reads 4/1.
The improvement in the Stormers’ attacking game late in the Hamilton match could have been down to several factors. The Chiefs had taken a 24-6 lead early in the second half, and it would be understandable if they released some of the pressure on the accelerator. The Stormers, knowing they were well behind, might have become less tense and that could have partly explained why they suddenly cut out the errors that blighted them earlier.
But it was nonetheless true that they were far more direct, and moved away from the deep lining approach that seemed to be taking them nowhere when they tried to attack in the first half, when Grant was on. It enabled them to fight back to 24-20 before a silly mistake let the Chiefs widen the margin again in the last minutes.
Grant showed when he was on the field that he remains an ace goalkicker, and his defence is far superior to that of Catrakilis, meaning that he will be the ideal man to face Toomua. The one small factor against playing Grant ahead of Catrakilis in this game is the happy memory that Catrakilis must have of a ground where the Southern Kings team he was part of managed to clinch a shock draw last season.
Although that result, and the recent Brumbies defeat to the Reds, proved that the Brumbies are not invincible in Canberra, their win over the Waratahs was impressive and the momentum they have picked up both in that game and the win over the Hurricanes in Wellington has sounded a warning to the Stormers.
The scrum is going to be a particular focal point this week, as so much of what went right for the Brumbies started there, and Coetzee is pleased to have Frans Malherbe back in the selection mix for a starting place after missing last week because of a toe injury. However, his return will have to be at the expense of a player who surprised a lot of people in Hamilton last week.
“I thought Brok Harris showed us just what an important role he can play for us in the squad by adding depth to our scrumming options,” said Coetzee.
“He really played well against the Chiefs, and he gave Jamie Mackintosh, the Chiefs loosehead, a lot of trouble in the scrums. He definitely came out top in that battle. However Frans is our first choice and we need him for more than just his scrumming. He has an unbelievable work-rate in general play, both as a tackler and as a ball carrier.”
The Stormers should also be giving Samoan wing Sailosi Tagicakibau his first start in this game following the injury that has ruled out Jaco Taute. The switch might benefit the Stormers in that Tagicakibau is an experienced player and he started to impress as a replacement towards the end of last week’s game as he gets more used to the Stormers structures.
Taute is a Springbok but has understandably looked tentative with some of his decision making after making a comeback from a long injury lay-off and Gio Aplon may have more confidence than him at fullback. With Kobus van Wyk and Tagicakibau on the wings it would appear the prayers for big wings has been answered, with the former looking to regain his form of the previous weeks after a step backwards last week.
The news out of the Brumbies camp may suggest the task of the back three will be easier than it might have been as wing Henry Speight has been ruled out with a broken jaw. The Stormers team is to be announced early Wednesday South African time.
Probable Stormers team: Gio Aplon, Kobus van Wyk, Jean de Villiers (captain), Damian de Allende, Sailosi Tagicakibau, Peter Grant, Nic Groom, Duane Vermuelen, Schalk Burger, Deon Fourie, Ruan Botha, Michael Rhodes, Frans Malherbe, Tiaan Liebenberg, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Stefan Coetzee, Oli Kebble, Brok Harris, Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Demetri Catrakilis, Juan de Jongh.