Stormers down on leaders but not on excitement

    2019-04-08 21:22

    Gavin Rich -

    Melbourne - They’re down to what might be their third or fourth choice lock pairing and most of their leaders have gone home but that hasn’t prevented Stormers assistant coach Paul Feeney from seeing the bright side of his team’s final tour game against the Rebels.

    The Stormers will be in Melbourne on Friday with a new captain after Siya Kolisi flew home as per the Springbok resting protocol.

    The alternate team leader, Chris van Zyl, has also gone back to Cape Town, in his case because of a back injury that will sideline him for six weeks, and he will join two influential team leaders in Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth in watching the game on television.

    Also already back home, and there for a few weeks already, is JD Schickerling, meaning that the Stormers effectively have four second row forwards out. It says something about their depth in the position that they still have Cobus Wiese, Salmaan Moerat and former national age-group leader Ernst van Rhyn to fall back on, but it would be naive to think you can lose so many players without it making an impact.

    Add to that SP Marais, who flew home with Van Zyl and Kolsi at the weekend, and Dan du Plessis, who returned to the Cape the previous week, and in all there are seven players who started the tour who have had to withdraw prematurely.

    "Seven guys have gone home, and we can’t hide from the fact that that is a lot," said assistant coach Paul Feeney from Australia on Monday.

    "Among the guys who have gone home are men with a lot of experience. And Siya, Eben and Pieter-Steph, plus Pickle (Van Zyl), are all influential forwards, as is JD (Schickerling). So it is true that our pack has been particularly hard hit, and we have to play to our strengths.

    "But the flip side of having these top guys out is that it gives other talented players opportunities. We have lost some experienced guys up front, but I tell you what, the experienced guys who remain need to step up and help the newcomers, who will be very excited about their opportunity.

    "The guys who are stepping up are all players with ability. (Flank) Kobus van Dyk is an excellent player. They are all excited about getting their chance. It is disappointing to lose the players of the calibre that we have, but I would describe the attitude to the Rebels game as one of excitement."

    Feeney would not let on who the new captain would be in Kolisi’ absence, and would say only that the decision would be announced to the team at training on Tuesday. However, he did point out that there were still plenty of options, and experience, available to head coach Robbie Fleck.

    "Frans Malherbe is a Springbok, so is Bongi Mbonambi, and Steven Kitshoff, so we are not lacking for experience in the front row," he said.

    "I’m not sure who the locks will be, but it will be between Cobus Wiese, Salmaan and Ernst."

    The big problem for the Stormers isn’t the quality of the players still available to them, but the fact that all of the players who have called the lineouts this season have gone home.

    That means someone new will be running the lineouts at the weekend. While Moerat might look the player most likely to take over the No 5 jersey vacated by Van Zyl, he is young and in just his second season of top rugby after leaving school just a few years ago.

    "No 5 lock is an issue. Losing Pickles, Eben, JD and Pieter-Steph means we have lost our first four lineout callers. But we can only use who we can at the moment, and get the best out of the group. The players coming in will all be young, so they will be excited about their opportunity to play. They must step up and make the best of it and are determined to do that," said Feeney.

    The New Zealander, who has worked as an assistant coach at the Blues, added that the fact the backline should be relatively unchanged this week could be a strength, even though he admitted that the halfbacks are still young and learning.

    When you compare Herschel Jantjies and Jean-Luc du Plessis to the Rebels pairing of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, well, there is no comparison, but Feeney is upbeat about it.

    "You can’t lose sight of the fact that both Stormers No 9s are young players. If you look at their ages and experience, you will note that they are just learning still, but in my opinion they are coming along nicely. Herschel Jantjies is in his first Super Rugby season. He is developing into a running threat and his kicking is coming along. Justin Philips is also a young player who is growing fast. I am pleased with the way both the scrumhalves are improving.

    "As for Jean-Luc, he is trying to push the team around the park, like a flyhalf should. It is good that he is at last getting regular game time. Overall it is good that the backline has remained relatively the same over the last few matches. It means there is continuity."

    Ultimately though, the Stormers halfbacks, whichever combination coach Fleck goes for, will be much less experienced than the Rebels starting duo, and that needs to be taken into consideration when the team’s chances of winning in Melbourne are analysed.

    "Well Genia and Cooper have already won a Super Rugby title playing together, haven’t they (for the Reds in 2011)," Feeney pointed out.

    "They are experienced at pushing their team around the park, they are a big part of what the Rebels are doing right. Dane Haylett-Petty is also an excellent runner and player and is playing with confidence. It will be a tough game for us, we are under no illusions about that. But we have just got to concentrate on ourselves, focus on righting what has gone wrong of us so far.

    "We have had a little look at the Rebels, but what is important is that we have got to do our own stuff well. We have got to finish better and execute better. If we can do that, then there is no reason we shouldn’t beat the Rebels."

    The Stormers team for the Rebels game, which kicks off at 11.45am SA time this week because the Australian clocks have been adjusted by an hour as autumn arrives, will be announced to the public on Wednesday.

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