The Stormers languish in 11th place on the Super 14 standings and on Saturday come up against a Chiefs tribe that ranks third in the tries-scored column, with fullback Mils Muliaina fronting an outfit riddled with game breakers.
Zelim Nel writes for the Cape Argus that last week’s 33-27 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria may have ended a six-game winning streak but the Chiefs remain the competition’s most dangerous counter-strikers.
“With the Chiefs you know what’s coming, but you still have to try and stop it,” Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus said yesterday. “They’ve got game breakers – from 1 to 15 there’s maybe only three guys that can’t step.”
And despite the Cape franchise’s lowly log position and bitterly disappointing season, the one shining light for Erasmus’ men has been their sterling defensive effort – the Stormers have conceded the third-fewest points to date.
This record will be tested by the Chiefs at Newlands on Saturday but the Stormers showed signs that they may be turning the corner as they rallied to end a four-match losing streak and pull off a franchise-first win in Dunedin last week.
“The win gave us lots of confidence and what stood out was how tight the team is,” said Erasmus, who pinpointed some of his team’s weaknesses in the 2009 season – in which self-doubt has been blamed for much of the team’s woes on attack.
“Our decision-making about where we play rugby has let us down this season,” Erasmus said. “But I’m confident that if we get our kicks right and our defence right then everything else will fall into place.”
To this end Erasmus is banking on a repeat performance from his tactical kickers as witnessed in Dunedin with flyhalf Willem de Waal and fullback Conrad Jantjes’ ability to kick with sniper-like accuracy possibly being the biggest determining factor in Saturday’s contest.
But the Stormers will again have to overcome a slew of injuries which means that line-out kingpin Andries Bekker will again be absent from duty as the Stormers aim to mark their first home game in seven weeks with an upset win over the third-placed Chiefs.
“Andries should be back next week,” said Erasmus, after announcing the team at the Stormers’ training facility in Bellville on Wednesday.
Having just returned from a toe injury that sidelined him for a month, the competition’s tallest player suffered what was initially reported as a severe rib injury during the team’s gutsy 18-11 comeback win over the Highlanders.
Bekker’s absence is a hefty blow to the injury-plagued Stormers as he joins fellow lock Adriaan Fondse (wrist) and a host of other crocked players in the Newlands stands this weekend.
The rangy lock undoubtedly played a central role in the Stormers’ performance against the Highlanders and his value is perhaps best highlighted by the fact that in his previous outing the team surged to a record 56-18 victory over the Lions.
Hilton Lobberts will take Bekker’s place in the second row with veteran AJ Venter as the coach looks to a pair of retreaded flankers to carry the load, while Western Province lock Martin Muller is promoted to the bench.
“Losing our first-choice locks is not what we bargained for at the beginning of the season but we’ll just have to make the most of it,” said Erasmus. “The plan was just to ease Hilton into the position this season but he’s really confident as a front lock and I thought he did well for us against the Hurricanes.”
The good news is that Bok flyer Tonderai Chavhanga has been included to start after proving his fitness in WP’s Vodacom Cup quarter-final last week. Gcobani Bobo is out with an ankle injury and Chavhanga replaces him on the right wing, adding a veritable speed threat out wide and an excellent kick-chaser in the fight for territory.
In addition, the presence of breakdown bruisers in the mould of number eight Sione Lauaki also makes the New Zealanders a physical opponent at the tackle point.
“The Chiefs loose trio is brilliant and Lauaki is their go-to guy on attack,” admitted Stormers stand-in captain Schalk Burger. “But we’ve played against them before and we as the loose forwards will just have to match them.”
Erasmus knows that this renewed confidence, coupled with a savvy kicking game and relentless defence, will be vital to the Stormers’ chances of scalping the Chiefs and placating a frustrated fan base.
“Our aim is to try and beat the Chiefs, for us and the fans,” said Erasmus.Tweet