Stormers playing for ‘something bigger’
The Lions might be motivated by the ructions that see them travel to Cape Town on Saturday without their head coach, but Stormers captain Jean de Villiers thinks his team has too much to play for to be caught off guard at this juncture of the Super Rugby competition.
The suspension of John Mitchell has brought different reactions from people looking ahead to the Newlands clash. There are those who believe the visitors will arrive in disarray, and there are others, such as Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, who believe it makes them more dangerous – and if you are prepared to take time out to listen, he will quote from history to back up his view.
De Villiers, back at the Stormers after three weeks leading the Springboks to a series win over England, appears to agree with Coetzee, but does not for one moment think the Lions, in their backs-to-the-wall situation, are going to have more to play for than the Stormers.
“Every team is dangerous in this competition and you cannot afford to relax, as the Sharks found out to their cost when they lost to the Lions recently,” said De Villiers.
“The Lions do have a lot to play for, and the uncertainty in their union could certainly inspire them to a big effort against us. But we have something even bigger to play for. We feel we have played ourselves into a position now where we are on the brink of something special, and the type of game we face on Saturday is the sort of challenge you need to confront and overcome if you want to win this competition.
“We feel we are playing for something quite special, and you can feel it in the mood of the squad. It’s been great to be back with the guys this week, there has been a great vibe and there is a hunger to do well. You can’t expect anything in this competition. At the start people would have predicted that the Brumbies would struggle, that the Chiefs might battle under a new coach, but look where those teams are now. So we certainly don’t take anything for granted against the Lions.”
Thanks to their gutsy win over the Bulls at Loftus four weeks ago, the Stormers are in a position where they can afford to lose to the Lions and still be top of the log.
Regardless of what happens on Saturday they will still have more wins than the Bulls, which will keep them top even if the Bulls pick up five points against the Cheetahs and the Stormers pick up none.
With the Bulls then still having to travel to Durban to face the Sharks, the Stormers may feel a degree of comfort – but Coetzee and De Villiers deny that has played any role in the decision to rest some players for the derby.
“We are not underestimating the Lions at all, we saw what happened when they played the Sharks,” said Coetzee.
“It’s just that at this stage of the season we have certain challenges that we have to work through. We were expecting to have Schalk Burger back by now, and Nick Koster too. Unfortunately neither of those players are available, and we know Jebb Sinclair isn’t available for the knock-outs. So we need to test the fringe players in case Schalk is still not back for the knock-outs and those players are needed.
“Some of the players have also just played too much rugby lately. Bryan Habana has played every game for us and also played all the Springbok tests in the series against England. That is why he is on the bench for this game. Eben Etzebeth also has a stiff ankle and we felt it wise not to risk him now as he has also played a lot of rugby lately and will be needed in the matches that lie ahead.”
The only Springbok who played all the tests against England who will be starting for the Stormers on Saturday is De Villiers, but according to Coetzee there are two issues that helped his decision to start with the captain.
“Jean was out for three weeks with a slight injury so he has had a rest, and he is also determined to play, so I wasn’t going to argue with him,” grinned the coach.
The only slight concern for the Stormers after the team was named on Wednesday was the bout of flu that had kept Joe Pietersen from training during the first part of the week, but the coach was confident he would be ready to play against the Lions.
“The thing with Joe is that he has an engine so I am not worried about his fitness at all. He also has another day off on Thursday to get over the whole thing.”