Stormers face daunting halfback battle in Melbourne

    2019-04-09 08:50

    Lloyd Burnard - Sport24

    Cape Town - The Rebels, under the leadership of South African coach Dave Wessels, have been one of the major success stories of Super Rugby 2019 so far. 

    Comfortably top of the Australian Conference with 5 wins from 7, that return would be even more impressive had they not squandered a 33-5 lead against the Lions at Ellis Park back in mid-March to go down 36-33.  

    It is no wonder that Wessels has come into the conversation whenever Australian media contemplate a replacement for Michael Cheika as head coach of the Wallabies beyond the 2019 World Cup in Japan. 

    Having taken over in Melbourne at the start of 2017, Wessels has the Rebels playing a brand of rugby that Australian sides have struggled to consistently achieve in recent times. 

    They are exciting with ball in hand, but the discipline in their defensive structures and execution of their set piece is clear to see. 

    It doesn't hurt, of course, that they have recruited wisely in positions where it matters most and one doesn't have to look further than the halfback combination to see that. 

    Scrumhalf Will Genia joined the Rebels in 2018, but the money-maker was the arrival of flyhalf Quade Cooper ahead of the 2019 season. 

    One of those players who polarises opinion because he makes such high-risk decisions so often, Cooper has been superb this year and has forced his way back into the Wallabies mix ahead of the World Cup. 

    It is a halfback combination that most franchises would take in a heartbeat. 

    The Stormers, for example, are currently miles off the pace in that area. 

    Herschel Jantjies is an exciting No 9 but does not have sufficient experience at Super Rugby level just yet, while Justin Phillips suggested last Friday against the Reds that he is still some way away. 

    At flyhalf, the Stormers have the highly-rated Jean-Luc du Plessis who has been backed by coach Robbie Fleck all season without ever producing a performance that matches the hype. 

    Du Plessis has been accurate enough with his kicks out of hand, but he has been no match for Cooper when it comes to slick, efficient distribution that opens up space. 

    It is probably not a good idea for the Stormers' halfback to compare themselves to Genia and Cooper, though. 

    That pair spent no less than 8 years together at the Reds and won Super Rugby at the franchise in 2011, while they have also shared the field numerous times for the Wallabies. 

    "Most teams that do well have very good 9s and 10s and Genia and Cooper have already won Super Rugby with the Reds. They're pushing their team around the park," Stormers assistant coach Paul Feeney told media from Australia on Monday.

    "They're two of the best players in the world in their position. It's like playing against Andy Ellis and Dan Carter when he was at the Crusaders ... they're the key to their game.

    "We have to make sure that we put them under pressure and negate how they use the ball. We can't give them time and space, because if we do that there is only one thing that's going to happen."

    The Stormers, of course, have other problems. 

    Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Chris van Zyl and JD Schickerling are all missing.

    It means that they go into the contest not only short in the tight five, but also without their regular captain.

    Kick-off on Friday is at 11:45.

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