Why Stormers have to win
A glance at the log should be enough to convince the DHL Stormers that their depleted team cannot afford to lose to the Western Force in their final Vodacom Super Rugby tour match in Perth on Saturday.
Coach Allister Coetzee was already concerned about the Force when we spoke to him after last week’s good win over the Reds. While he was pleased to have beaten the champions, he felt that all the good work could be undone if they lost focus against a Force team that in normal circumstances you would expect the Stormers to win quite easily against.
But the circumstances are not quite normal, and the number of injuries has prompted Coetzee and his team to adopt a motto that reminds them that no extraordinary things are ever achieved without overcoming trying circumstances, which is what they find themselves in now. Three captains are back home in South Africa, so is the back-up No 8, the star lock is out injured, so is the most dangerous attacking force at the back, and wing Bryan Habana is being forced to continue at centre.
As Coetzee said during the week, the difference between a win and a defeat is the difference between a good tour and a great one. But while it would still have been a fair tour if the Stormers lose on Saturday, such a result could have a significant impact on their log position, particularly in relation to the Crusaders, who along with the Chiefs look their biggest challengers for the title this season.
The Crusaders have picked up sufficient momentum over the past two weeks to move to within five log points of the Stormers, in other words a bonus point win and they will be right on top of the Cape team if they beat the Waratahs on Sunday and the Stormers lose. The Stormers, after failing to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch when the odds were in their favour, will not fancy the prospect of having to go to the south island to play in a knockout game, so they desperately need to ensure they stay ahead of Crusaders.
That of course is not to mention the Chiefs, who came back from South Africa with nine out of a possible 10 log points packed away in their old kit bag, plus of course the points they banked in their win over the Force during the stop-over on the way out.
But the Stormers are taking the correct attitude into the game, as they did last week, and they would be right to argue that if they can win with a depleted team in Brisbane they should be able to do the same in Perth, even if they have more players out now than they had then. The prize for victory is the knowledge that they effectively bank eight or nine log points as they head into a bye which is now much needed given the number of players who are crocked.
PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS (all times are CAT, SA, GMT+2)
- Weekend’s Teams
- Working the Blindside - video preview
BLUES v REDS (Auckland, Friday 9:35am)
Piri Weepu is starting for the Blues in a match which sees both teams in a fairly desperate position, though for different reasons. The Reds started to get aspects of their play right against the Stormers last week, but after losing at home to the Cape team they really can’t afford to go down again if they are to remain strong contenders for the Australian conference title. The Blues, by contrast, no longer have any interest in conference honours, but they need to win just because it has been such a long time since they have done so and they need to get off the bottom of the log. Digby Ioane is back for the Reds, as is Anthony Fa’ainga, but Sam Lane, who was injured early in last week’s game, will be missing.
Predicition: Reds to win narrowly.
MTN LION v BRUMBIES (Johannesburg, Friday 7:10pm)
The Brumbies are without regular captain Ben Mowen, with Stephen Moore leading the side in his absence from hooker. The Lions have made two changes to the side that lost to the Bulls before their bye -- Lionel Mapoe returns at left wing for James Kamana, while coach John Mitchell will be hoping that Hendrik Roodt, who comes in at lock, will provide a solution to his team’s ongoing lineout woes. The Brumbies will start as clear favourites as they are doing everything right under Jake White, they are one of the top Aussie teams and they should be acclimatised to the altitude after spending two weeks in Gauteng and losing narrowly at Loftus last week. But the Lions have to win sometime and I have a hunch it will be in this game. Sorry, I just see this as a year when the words “a good Aussie team” don’t mean much.
Prediction: Lions to win.
CHIEFS v HURRICANES (Hamilton, Saturday 9:35am)
Jason Leonard is back from injury for the Chiefs and there are a couple of rotational changes, but otherwise the Chiefs will be returning home to Hamilton for this derby with the same side that forged to the top of the all-round log during their successful overseas tour. With the Hurricanes falling apart in the first half last week against the Crusaders, there really isn’t any reason to back anything other than a home win, apart maybe from the fact that the Chiefs have just had to travel from South Africa.
Prediction: Chiefs to win.
WESTERN FORCE v DHL STORMERS (Perth, Saturday 11:40am)
If the Stormers come through this game with a win they should be pleased with the way they have been forced to test their depth during the overseas tour, which will end with them boasting a record of three victories in four starts if the Perth result is positive. They were already depleted last week and this time they are even more so. The Force can be tough at home, so it won’t be easy, but Andries Bekker has the experience to off-set the loss of stand-in skipper Duane Vermeulen. He will have his work cut out though, as this game represents a first start for some (Nizaam Carr), a debut for others (Don Armand) and the return after a long absence from the starting team for another (Danie Poolman). It won’t be easy, but these days it is hard to bet against the Stormers no matter who they put on the field.
- Stormers team announcement
Prediction: Stormers to win.
TOYOTA CHEETAHS v HIGHLANDERS (Bloemfontein, Saturday 5:05pm)
I would love to be given the opportunity to shadow the Highlanders after this game -- if you don’t drink on a Saturday night in Bloemfontein, what exactly do you do? Finding that out could be as intriguing as finding the winner of a match which shapes up as one of those 50/50 clashes. If they were playing anywhere else but Bloemfontein of course the Highlanders, who have lost just twice this season and are getting really serious about their rugby, would be strong favourites. But the game is in Bloem, and Adriaan Strauss, who new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer quite rightly rates highly as a captain, is back after missing the Chiefs clash with flu. Maybe it is my week for being patriotic, but I just sense the Cheetahs have more to play for (a night at Mystik Boer, the Koobar, Barrabas or wherever it is they party these days) than the Highlanders do (a milkshake and maybe a movie?).
- Cheetahs team announcement
Prediction: Cheetahs to win.
WARATAHS v CRUSADERS (Sydney, Sunday 7:10am)
The rest of the teams in the competition will be hoping the Waratahs can help them by halting the ominous momentum being built up by the Crusaders, who this week have Richie McCaw making his seasonal debut from the bench as he completes his recovery from the foot injury that bugged him during the World Cup. The Waratahs have named their 22 but not their starting team as they have injury problems, and several changes have been forced since last week’s game against the Rebels. Rocky Elsom should start, but it’s hard to see the Waratahs living with the resurgent Crusaders, who should end the weekend maintaining the pressure on the front-runners.
- Crusaders team announcement
Prediction: Crusaders to win