Stormers at full strength to face Crusaders juggernaut
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has naturally picked his strongest team to face the Crusaders at Newlands on Saturday‚ with the return of a trio of Springboks.
Captain Siya Kolisi‚ flank Pieter-Steph du Toit and inside centre Damian de Allende will bolster the Cape side against the juggernaut side from Christchurch.
A win for the Stormers would put them strongly in the play-off picture despite six losses in 11 matches so far this season.
The SA conference is so tight that even a defeat won’t put the Stormers out of contention‚ but a win over the best team in the competition would feel like a bonus.
The Christchurch side are also near maximum strength though‚ with the return of All Black stalwart Sam Whitelock to lead them in the 22nd meeting between the teams.
The Crusaders have won 17 of the previous 21 clashes‚ including the last seven in row.
You have to go back to 2010 to find the last time the Stormers tasted victory against the eight-time champions and to 2013 for the last time they met at Newlands.
Fleck’s decision to recall the available Boks after prescribed resting protocols was an obvious one. What was a little surprising was his decision to pick Josh Stander at flyhalf over the erratic Jean-Luc du Plessis.
It’s an indication that the Stormers are looking for a more accurate kicking game against a side that uses tactical kicking much more liberally than expected.
During last week’s 45-13 win over the Bulls at Loftus‚ the Crusaders kicked out of hand 34 times – 10 more than the Bulls – and made over 200 kicking metres more than the Bulls.
“Josh has been doing well off the bench and we feel he is the right choice for this game‚” Fleck said‚ not elaborating on what strengths Stander brings.
“The Crusaders are loaded with All Blacks and they have a decent pack. It will be a big battle up front‚ but we can be proud of the pack we have on paper.
“We need to match their intensity up front‚ and this is the best pack we have at our disposal.
“There is a certain way you have to play against the Crusaders. But we don’t want to be giving them possession unnecessarily because they will punish you. We have to back ourselves to retain possession.
“We have to frustrate them by not allowing them to play the game their way.
“We have been unlucky at times this year‚ but luck is not going to win us this game – hard work‚ execution and a bit of patience will give us a chance.
“They are the best team in the competition and have been for a long time. But they are not unbeatable. We have had a good week and set our plans early. We gave the players a lot of clarity in terms of how we want to play‚ which has given the players confidence.
“If you are frantic and error-ridden against the Crusaders you will suffer.”
Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse‚ 14 Seabelo Senatla‚ 13 JJ Engelbrecht‚ 12 Damian de Allende‚ 11 Dillyn Leyds‚ 10 Josh Stander‚ 9 Herschel Jantjies‚ 8 Jaco Coetzee‚ 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit‚ 6 Siya Kolisi (captain)‚ 5 Cobus Wiese‚ 4 Eben Etzebeth‚ 3 Wilco Louw‚ 2 Bongi Mbonambi‚ 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Reserves: 16 Scarra Ntubeni‚ 17 Corne Fourie‚ 18 Frans Malherbe‚ 19 Kobus van Dyk‚ 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe‚ 21 Justin Phillips‚ 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis‚ 23 Dan Kriel.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili‚ 14 Sevu Reece‚ 13 Jack Goodhue‚ 12 Ryan Crotty‚ 11 George Bridge‚ 10 Richie Mo'unga‚ 9 Bryn Hall‚ 8 Kieran Read‚ 7 Matt Todd‚ 6 Ethan Blackadder‚ 5 Sam Whitelock (captain)‚ 4 Scott Barrett‚ 3 Michael Alaalatoa‚ 2 Codie Taylor‚ 1 George Bower.
Reserves: 16 Andrew Makalio‚ 17 Harry Allan‚ 18 Oliver Jager‚ 19 Luke Romano‚ 20 Jordan Taufua‚ 21 Mitchell Drummond‚ 22 Mitchell Hunt‚ 23 Braydon Ennor.