Cape winter to aid Stormers’ quest?
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – A good likelihood of a heavy pitch and possible
on-day rain may well enhance rather than impede the Stormers’ bid to knock over
the Chiefs in Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby quarter-final at Newlands here.
Still notably too light on the wet stuff in recent weeks, at
the supposed height of the winter season and with dams at unhealthily low
levels, the next few days look like providing relief for farmers on that front
in the Western Cape … and the Stormers’ pack, in particular, may be smiling
over weather prospects too.
Forward dominance and the often attached territorial
benefits -- something that should be within their capability if suitably
fired-up -- seems the likeliest ticket to home victory in a clash which, like
the other two quarter-finals also featuring South African against New Zealand
franchises, arguably sees the side from the land of the long white cloud worthy
of slight favourite status.
Certainly in ever-bullish NZ itself and in thought among
bookies, our country will do well to squeeze even one of the Lions (hosting the
Crusaders), Sharks (away to the Hurricanes) or Stormers through to the semis.
Knockout rugby always brings a greater likelihood of more
conservative approaches, even before you bring conditions into focus, and that
should be beneficial to both the Sharks and Stormers, who are very unlikely to
wish to indulge in the kind of constant ball-in-hand lustre that marks the
broad New Zealand philosophy in modern times.
While the daringly evolving Lions may again try to eclipse
the ‘Saders for attacking flair – it nearly worked for them when they succumbed
43-37 in Johannesburg during ordinary season – the other two SA outfits will
more probably try to suck the life out of their Kiwi opponents with a tighter,
more physical and spoiling formula.
That is where the meteorological factor could come into play
at Newlands, located in the midst of a suburb by the same name which
traditionally has to absorb more moisture than others further away from the
mountain in Cape Town whenever cold fronts strike.
On the Chiefs’ last visit to the city in 2015, a firm, dry
pitch and beautiful late summer conditions greeted the sides, and a champagne
game followed: the Stormers got out of the blocks in handsomely up-tempo style,
and opened up a 13-3 lead into the second quarter.
But even after still trailing 16-13 at the interval, the
Mooloo Men were hardly going to be cowed and gradually established a firm
foothold of their own as the Stormers found the unusual pace and width of play
too hot to handle; the Chiefs eventually romped to a 28-19 triumph.
In some ways, you could have argued that the Stormers were
suckered into the entertainment-fest – they had massively dominated the scrums
for large portions of the contest, and were castigated by former Springbok and
WP tighthead prop Keith Andrews, among others, for a “huge mistake” in
prematurely subbing their starting front-rankers on that occasion, Steven
Kitshoff and Vincent Koch.
Kitshoff, of course, has moved on, but the Stormers should
have all of their current frontline props available for selection on Saturday,
and it should also be remembered that they will infuse the biggest aces in
their pack – in-form Bok locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit – for the
quarter-final, well rested after deserved feet-up time last weekend.
Considering that they gave the Chiefs such set-piece angst
at Newlands last year, it is worth remembering that they did so minus both
Etzebeth (injured then) and Du Toit (not yet on their books): the second-rowers
were Jean Kleyn and Manuel Carizza.
So a concerted forward onslaught can be expected from the
Stormers; it seems their best chance of outfoxing the Chiefs and in altogether
chillier, wetter and slower conditions – it seems, at this stage – than
experienced in that 2015 humdinger.
Nobody especially enjoys turning out in inclement weather
for a rugby match, but it is probably in the Stormers’ interests this weekend
if they wish to secure any onward passage in the tournament.
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing