Stormers set for Etzebeth boost ahead of Bulls derby

    2019-04-23 21:00

    Gavin Rich - SuperSport

    Cape Town - They’ve faced important junctures in their season already, but none is more critical to the Stormers’ chances of challenging for South African Super Rugby conference honours than the one they face this coming weekend, reports.

    After their 40-3 defeat to the Bulls on the opening weekend, the return north/south derby at Newlands was always going to be even bigger than it usually already is.

    There was a lot of hurt in the Cape camp after the heavy loss in Pretoria and much talk about how eager they were to play the Bulls again to set the record straight.

    And some of the Stormers’ decisions may have telegraphed that intent, such as resting key players towards the end of the tour of Australasia and again, with some cost, against the Brumbies at the start of what is to be an extended home run.

    Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said after the 19-17 loss to the Brumbies that the two first-choice locks Eben Etzebeth and JD Schickerling will be back this week. Also back in the selection mix for Saturday’s big game will be Frans Malherbe, Damian de Allende and Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Skipper Siya Kolisi played off the bench against the Brumbies, but will start against the Bulls. Also due back soon is experienced scrumhalf Jano Vermaak.

    It will be important for the Stormers to have those players back for the next fortnight which will make or break their season. They travel to Buenos Aires the week after they play the Bulls, and while facing the Jaguares away is a tough assignment, and many South African teams have faltered recently, being at full strength will give the Stormers a definite chance.

    What is in the Stormers’ favour is that the second bye week comes immediately after the Jaguares game. That means they can go for broke against the Bulls and the Jaguares and play their top players. Often the South African teams that have faltered in Argentina in recent years have been under-strength as coaches use the opportunity to rest players. The Stormers won’t be doing that. At least they don’t need to.

    The Jaguares game will become a big mountain to climb though if the Stormers don’t beat the Bulls on Saturday, and they will effectively be in a situation where they will be on a knock-out footing with six games to go in the competition. In that sense, the loss to the Brumbies, following on as it did the good win over the Rebels in Melbourne, was a case of taking two steps back after taking one step forward.

    "That was exactly what we said after the game,” said Fleck. "Against the Brumbies we had a chance to move to fifth on the log. It is amazing how the conference is working out. There have been so many surprise results. The game against the Brumbies was one we had to win in terms of keeping momentum from the tour.

    "But now we have made it tough for ourselves and we know we are in a fight. What helps is that we know most of the other teams still have to tour. The conference is wide open. We lost to the Brumbies but other results, like the Sharks losing to the Reds, have helped us."

    Fleck is under no illusions about how massive the Bulls game is, and how important it is to avenge the February defeat. There was a disappointing crowd of just 11 000 at Newlands for the Brumbies game, and the fact that many Capetonians leave the city on the Easter weekend or are involved with other things notwithstanding, it was reflective of a waning interest.

    There is nothing though that is more conducive to getting Stormers supporters interested again than a good win over the old foe, and just like the Loftus defeat was a severe setback, so a win in Cape Town will regain some of the frustrated supporters. From a log viewpoint too, the win will mean everything.

    "Next week is a big one, we know that. If we win it will be game on. We will move up to 23 or 24 log points on the conference and will be right in the mix. This is coming week is going to be a massive one for us," agreed Fleck.

    Although the Stormers lost to the Brumbies, and were in many ways authors of their own demise, it would be disingenuous to equate where they are at present with where the Sharks are in terms of team alignment. The Stormers lost some close games on tour and they should have beaten the Brumbies, they have made costly mistakes, but you wouldn’t say the players have switched off or say they are not playing for their coach.

    On the contrary, there were times in the Brumbies game where it looked like they may be trying too hard and that contributed to a loss of composure. The Stormers were also some way off full strength and had inexperienced players in key decision making positions. Perhaps that was a selection error on Fleck’s part, but then he was duty bound to rest Damian de Allende, his most experienced back, because of the Springbok resting protocols.

    "We are not getting much wrong, in the Brumbies game it was individual error so to speak that let us down. That is fixable and something we will look at this week," said Fleck.

    The Stormers still have room to breathe and room to manoeuvre. The mediocrity of the South African challenge this year has made that possible. But with the trip to Buenos Aires starting the next day and a clash with the Crusaders in the not too distant future, there won’t be much room to breathe if the result doesn’t go their way against the Bulls. Make or break time has arrived for the Stormers.

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    Friday, 10 April 2020
    • Highlanders v Chiefs, 07:00
    Saturday, 11 April 2020
    • Blues v Hurricanes, 06:45
    • Reds v Rebels, 11:15
    • Sharks v Waratahs, 15:05
    • Bulls v Lions, 17:15
    Sunday, 12 April 2020
    • Brumbies v Jaguares, 08:05


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