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    Stormers off the mark, seek greater strides in Durban

    2019-02-26 07:45
    Eben Etzebeth
    The Stormers welcomed the return of Eben Etzebeth to their engine room... (Gallo Images)

    Cape Town - The sense of relief at the Stormers' Bellville training complex on Monday was tangible. 

    Springbok prop Frans Malherbe tried his best to put this past weekend's 19-17 win over the Lions firmly in the past, but there is no doubt that the players and management are feeling a whole lot better about life compared to how they did this time, last week. 

    Hammered 40-3 in Pretoria by the Bulls in Round 1, the Stormers relied on a resilient defensive effort and a never-say-die, well-after-the-hooter try to bounce back against the Lions and secure a significant victory on Saturday. 

    As breakdown specialist John Dobson told media on Monday, it was "far from perfect", but the most important thing is that the Stormers got the 'W' and they have momentarily eased the pressure on under-fire coach Robbie Fleck. 

    Reports this week that Director of Rugby Gert Smal is on his way out of Newlands have been another distraction, but there is no time for the brains trust to spend any more energy on off-field matters. 

    Financial issues and administrative uncertainty aside, there is a ruthless, unforgiving and uncompromising Super Rugby season on the go that commands far more attention. 

    Up next for the men in blue, or black, or red and blue and black, is a trip to Durban to take on the Sharks at Kings Park. 

    That will always be a fixture that the two coastal sides get up for, and recent Currie Cups have seen the unions contest the last two finals.

    Saturday's affair in Durban, though, represents a chance for the Stormers to make serious strides in the South African conference. 

    The Sharks, currently top of the overall log with back-to-back bonus point wins against the Sunwolves and then the Blues, have all of a sudden been tipped as South Africa's best bet at challenging for the Super Rugby title. 

    Dobson offered some perspective on Monday.

    "The Bulls are playing the Lions this week so one of those guys are going to be one from three and then they're suddenly going to be the skunks of our conference," he mused.

    "The Sharks haven't gotten involved with that yet with the Sunwolves and the Blues. We are going in as underdogs, but we've got a bit of experience in that."

    What the Stormers would like to do this weekend is play with more freedom and attacking intent. 

    They never got out of first gear against the Bulls, while winning at all costs was the sole mandate against a Lions side that has contested the last three Super Rugby finals. 

    "Because of all the circumstances we were under a lot of pressure last week after our result in Pretoria. It was very much fighting our way out of a corner and hopefully this week we can look at trying to attack more generally in our approach to the game," Dobson explained.

    "It's certainly a game we want to play with a bit of tempo. 

    "There were probably a few more positives than we thought after watching the (Lions) game again. One of them was that we were pushing tempo quite nicely towards the end. It's something we want to work on for Saturday.

    "We want to play quickly. We think we're really well conditioned."

    The good news for the Stormers is that there are no new injury concerns following their physical clash at Newlands. 

    Eben Etzebeth got through his appearances unscathed, and there is even more good news.

    Juarno Augustus, Dillyn Leyds, Cobus Wiese and Wilco Louw all seem to have recovered from the knocks and niggles that kept them out of the Lions match, and all are expected to be available for selection for Kings Park. 

    Kick-off on Saturday is at 17:15.

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    Friday, 22 March 2019
    • Blues v Highlanders, Eden Park 08:35
    Saturday, 23 March 2019
    • Hurricanes v Stormers, Westpac Stadium 08:35
    • Waratahs v Crusaders, Sydney Cricket Ground 10:45
    • Sunwolves v Lions, Singapore National Stadium 12:55
    • Bulls v Chiefs, Loftus Versfeld 15:05
    • Sharks v Rebels, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 17:15
    Sunday, 24 March 2019
    • Reds v Brumbies, Suncorp Stadium 07:05

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