Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper may be publicly bemoaning his side’s travel exertions, but perhaps he should spare a thought for his Stormers opposite Rassie Erasmus who is struggling to put a team on the field for Saturday’s match at the Cake Tin.
Mark Hinton writes for RugbyHeaven NZ that Cooper is on the record describing the travel demands in the Super 14 as ”too hard” after his side was forced to back up on a pair of matches in South Africa with a Friday night contest against the Western Force in Perth.
That the Hurricanes escaped from their short turnaround in Perth with a dramatic last-minute victory over John Mitchell’s side did not stop Cooper ripping the travel demands of Super 14 rugby.
“I know everyone has to do it but I think it is unacceptable,” Cooper said of the unique requirements of this three-nation competition.
But what the Canes have to put up with is nothing compared to the beleaguered South African sides who face four and five-week road trips and the prospect of their entire campaigns crumbling during one spell of away games.
The Stormers have already played three matches in Australasia, kicking off their five-week tour in Christchurch, then crossing the Tasman for matches in Sydney and Canberra, before finishing the trip from hell with the Canes on Saturday and a visit to Dunedin next weekend.
That dwarfs anything the Canes have had to go through, though does rather illustrate Cooper’s point that something has to be done to address the travel factor in this competition. The mooted move to conferences in an expanded Super 15 could go some way to reducing the demands in this area, though with a competition spanning such a massive geographical area there is always going to be some big asks.
Erasmus won’t be worrying too much about the future right now – his main concern will be getting 15 fit and firing players on to the field for the tough matchup against the Canes who will be rejuvenated by their ”get out of jail” win in Perth.
Erasmus has called up three players from South Africa to boost his ailing squad which has lost all three matches on the trip so far.
Bok lock Andries Bekker, prop Brok Harris and loose forward Pieter Louw have all been summoned to New Zealand to boost playing strength.
But even Bekker, who has apparently recovered from a toe injury sustained against the Lions a month ago, is touch and go to be fit for the Hurricanes clash. He arrived in New Zealand at the weekend and is being given every chance to prove his readiness.
Bekker’s regular second row partner Adriaan Fondse is also battling injury after picking up a knock against the Brumbies.
The Stormers lost veteran fullback Percy Montgomery (knee) and flanker Francois Louw (ankle) to injury prior to last weekend’s match in Canberra, with both players making an early return to the republic.
Tighthead prop Brian Mujati was also stretchered off in the first half against the Brumbies after being knocked out. His fitness is being monitored closely, and he remains in doubt for Saturday.
But with Harris not due to arrive in New Zealand until Thursday, the No 3 position shapes as a potential problem one should Mujati be ruled out. The other option is to shift Wicus Blaaw across from his favoured side.
Erasmus also has some major form issues to worry about, with suggestions from South African media that he could drop scrumhalf Ricky Januarie and hooker Schalk Brits as he looks for a much-needed spark. They are tipping Dewaldt Duvenhage and Tiaan Liebenberg, respectively, will replace them.
Whatever transpires over the next few days, Saturday’s match (5.30pm kickoff at Westpac Stadium) shapes as a battle of attrition.
The Hurricanes must shake off their travel weariness and rid their game of the clumsy errors that marred their performance in Perth.
A Stormers side that has lost six of eight matches and is struggling with its own travel woes could be the ideal sort of opposition to break out against.
Cooper’s side certainly has a lot more to play for and will regard winning points as critical in their battle to stay in the semifinal picture.
But they will also note that the Stormers have beaten them three times previously in New Zealand and will eye this match as a great chance to break their duck on this road trip.Tweet