Rassie Erasmus’ determination not to repeat the one mistake he may have made in 2008 should see the Stormers hit the season running when the next edition of the Super 14 kicks off in February.
Gavin Rich writes in the Cape Argus that the Stormers played only one warm-up game against the Boland Cavaliers before starting their first Super 14 campaign under Erasmus, and it took place a full month before the opening game against the Bulls.
The Stormers lost narrowly to the Bulls in a game they should have won, and probably would have had they not been so rusty.
It was a game that came back to haunt them when they narrowly failed to qualify for the semi-finals, being edged into fifth place because they had an inferior points for-and-against differential to the fourth placed Hurricanes.
Next year the Stormers play two warm-up games, plus two opposed contact sessions against the Maties and UCT respectively, before their opening Super 14 match against the Sharks at Newlands on February 14.
The first of them will see Sunday rugby return to Newlands for the first time in ages, with London-based Saracens due to visit on January 25. The date was the only convenient one that could be fitted into Saracens’ schedule.
The top English club team will then play the Cavaliers in mid-week, with the match scheduled to be played either in Worcester, Robertson or somewhere on the West Coast.
This game will give Erasmus a chance to assess any additional fringe players from the Boland he may have overlooked, with the Stormers due to play their annual Wellington friendly against Boland on Saturday, January 31.
“I don’t know at the moment whether we will make both contact sessions against the university teams open or not, and at this stage I am not sure they will take the form of a match, but we do want to ensure the players have enough contact training before the Super 14 begins,” said Erasmus.
“Last year maybe I underdid the contact aspect a bit during the preparation phase.”
The Stormers play their first five matches on South African soil, and although the Stormers travelled well last year, notching an unprecedented (for a local team) 75% success rate in Australasia, Erasmus would rather not see the pressure pile up on his men before departure.
Included in that opening sequence, apart from the plum fixture against the Sharks, are tough games against the Blues (home) and the Bulls (Loftus).
The Stormers face a tough opener to their overseas tour, meeting the Crusaders in Christchurch on March 28, but Erasmus is emboldened by the knowledge the champions may be in a state of flux as they start life without Dan Carter and former coach Robbie Deans.
The Brumbies and the Waratahs, the two teams the Stormers face on the Australian leg, will also be playing with new coaches in 2009.
The five match away sequence makes the Stormers’ task this year look tougher than the 2008 schedule was, but Erasmus believes the Stormers may play better rugby when away from the pressures of Cape Town, a theory borne out by their successful tour last year.
The Stormers have been hard at work following the start of the onfield preparation phase to the new season at the start of the month. Most of the sessions have been closed to media and public, but the good news is that JD Moller is back in training and looking forward to next year.
The big loosehead was sorely missed by the Stormers after he was forced out with an injury during the home win over the Hurricanes.
With Brian Mujati now boasting international experience at tighthead, the Stormers could boast a formidable front row if Moller is fully fit.
Unfortunately Eddie Andrews has had to retire due to his injury problems, but Erasmus saw enough of Wicus Blaauw and JC Kritzinger in the Currie Cup season to do the job that may be needed from them in the Super 14.
It was no secret that Erasmus was looking at a couple of different tight forward options a couple of months ago, but with French and English salaries proving such a pull for the South African big men at the moment, experienced props and locks are not a dime a dozen, and a look at the other local squads will show it is not just the Stormers who are suffering.
Of the players to have left, the loss of Ross Skeate to France was the biggest blow.
Fortunately Deon Fourie blossomed as a replacement for Tiaan Liebenberg at hooker, so the Stormers are adequately covered in that position.
Corne Uys, injured in a pre- season friendly last year, has moved to the Cheetahs, but Sireli Naqelevuki’s switch during the Currie Cup season has added depth at outside centre.
Newcomers since the end of the Currie Cup season are Cheetahs No 8 Duane Vermeulen and former Bulls and Springbok loose-forward Hilton Lobberts.
However, with back-row being an area of huge Stormers depth, and Nick Koster promising a bright future, Lobberts is probably going to be retreaded into a lock.
Also new since the end of the 2008 Super 14 are AJ Venter, who Erasmus is still convinced has gas left in him as a lock (he was used mainly as a loose-forward in the Currie Cup), Percy Montgomery and Willem de Waal.
The last mentioned pair bring some interesting possibilities when it comes to backline and kicking options, with De Waal showing in the initial stages of the past season that he could be a vital cog on those days when conditions may call for a horses-for-courses policy.Tweet