Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - They'll start their four-match Super Rugby tour in fine fettle anyway, but the Stormers have a powerful extra reason to feel chipper about game one against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday.
Robbie Fleck's charges will be the first major South African outfit to play at Westpac Stadium - the more affectionately-named Cake Tin - since the earth-shattering 36-34 triumph by the Springboks over the All Blacks in mid-September last year.
What’s more, they are highly likely to tackle the ‘Canes with the nucleus of the starting pack which helped mastermind the highly unexpected Rugby Championship result.
That will certainly be the case if the Stormers run out, as they should, with all of Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, dual franchise and national captain Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit among their frontline eight.
Midfielder Damian de Allende also wore the green-and-gold No 12 on that seminal day, while hooker Bongi Mbonambi and tighthead prop Wilco Louw were on the Bok bench.
All of them are fighting fit, at least as things stand, to contribute anew at the Cake Tin in a game the Capetonians enter on a sequence of three wins in succession, including last weekend’s increasingly pleasing 35-8 Newlands disposal of the Jaguares with a bonus point in tow.
That is useful statistical ammunition to carry into what looks, on paper, the toughest tour contest: the Hurricanes, currently in fourth overall, remain two points clear of the Stormers in sixth, although the visitors have a game in hand.
Once they have finished in Wellington, Kolisi and company shift onward to play the Blues and then the Reds and Rebels across the proverbial ditch in Australia.
Rubbing some further salt into Wellingtonian wounds from last year, by prevailing this Saturday, would be a sublime way for the Stormers - who once had a solid reputation as good travellers and will be eager to restore that - to launch their mission.
Although the 'Canes boast a much more rounded game as things stand and their backline play can be positively lethal when the mood grabs them, the Stormers pack has a great chance of monopolising that broad area of play, especially as Kolisi found some timely form at Newlands on Friday, meanie Etzebeth is right on top of his game and blindside flanker Du Toit will be turning out at the venue where he performed with special valour and commitment in that amazing Bok victory.
Still, there will be a couple of Hurricanes-based All Blacks extremely determined to set things right, to a good extent, in this match '- not least mercurial flyhalf Beauden Barrett who had made some costly errors including inaccuracy off the tee in the nail-biting Test.
The Stormers become national guinea pigs, if you like, over the next four weeks as first South African side in 2019 to make the Australasian trek, which is probably still the toughest and best pre-international-season barometer (especially in a World Cup year) of whether the Boks may be capable of winning consistently enough on foreign soil to be able to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup again.
Compatriots the Lions, meanwhile, the only other SA outfit in action last weekend, will still be revelling - though they naturally have many faults to iron out as well - in their come-from-behind 36-33 victory over the Rebels in Johannesburg.
By scoring 31 unanswered points from a formidable 5-33 deficit at one stage, they emulated another famous sting-in-the-tail result in the competition last season, when eventual champions the Crusaders also notched 31 points from 0-29 down to pip the Waratahs 31-29 in Christchurch.
Then, the ‘Tahs had raced into a four-tries-to-nil lead after less than half an hour, but the wily old Cantabrians gradually struck back with four dot-downs of their own to edge to encounter.
Swys de Bruin’s charges now head to Asia to face the Sunwolves on Saturday, a busy day for rugby-lovers back home as all four SA franchises have engagements.
This weekend's full fixture list (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):
Friday: Blues v Highlanders, 08:35; Saturday: Hurricanes v Stormers, 08:35; Waratahs v Crusaders, 10:45; Sunwolves v Lions, 12:55; Bulls v Chiefs, 15:05; Sharks v Rebels, 17:15. Sunday: Reds v Brumbies, 07:05. Bye: Jaguares
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