It’s just about getting sharp
Supporters of the winning franchise will no doubt boast about it afterwards, but in reality the result of Saturday’s Super Rugby warm-up fixture between the Toyota Cheetahs and the DHL Stormers in Bloemfontein will be irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.
A surprising degree of fuss has been made by some people about last week’s Lions win over the Cheetahs in a similar game.
It’s a bit confounding, for the Lions, having played the week before against Russia, should have been expected to be sharper than their opponents and therefore it wasn’t so surprising that they won.
No-one would suggest the Cheetahs should win on Saturday, but they do have an advantage – if you can talk about one side having an advantage when the real focus should just be on sharpening up and toughening up for the real business of the Super Rugby season that lies ahead.
Like the results of most ODI cricket series outside of a World Cup year, this should have been forgotten by most, but the Cheetahs did beat the Stormers in the corresponding game at Newlands last year. And where did the respective teams finish on the Super Rugby log?
But while the pressure to win might not be so great, with one day less than three weeks remaining until they kick off their Super Rugby campaign against the Bulls at Loftus, the Stormers know there is greater pressure than there usually is at this time of the year to get match sharp quickly.
FEWER WARM-UP GAMES
Instead of the usual four games they play in the warm-up phase, this time they play just two, with the preparation being rounded off next week against Boland at the Cape Town Stadium.
“I want to see all the players get some game-time in one of the two matches. We will not select players to face the Bulls if they haven’t had sufficient game-time,” said Stormers coach Allister Coetzee.
Last year the Sharks were unsure whether their low-key start to the season worked for them – they lost both their opening derbies against the Bulls and the Stormers – but Coetzee is probably right when he says that gone are the days that teams will play four warm-up games.
The competitive season is just too long, and starting the playing part of the year too early, with the travelling it usually entails, has a negative impact later on.
The game is going to be televised, so Cape fans will get an opportunity to look at how Jaco Taute, one of the recruits from the Lions, settles into the Stormers' pattern.
Take away a few players with injuries and the one that has left for alternative employment, Demitri Catrakilis, and this Stormers team is a similar combination to the one that won the Currie Cup final for Western Province three months ago.
Not all of them will be expected to see action against the Bulls, but those who will have today and whatever part of next week’s match against Boland that they spend on the field to get themselves prepared.
It’s the same story for the Cheetahs, who get an opportunity on Saturday to try out Ryno Benjamin as an inside centre – a move which could well pay off for them.
Another former Stormers player, Johann Sadie, will play outside Benjamin, and the Cheetahs coaching staff will be studying the performance of this combination closely.
Perhaps the most long-awaited event, though, will be the return of Juan Smith to the playing field, when it happens.
The Springbok star is playing off the Cheetahs bench in his long-awaited comeback game after two years sidelined by injury and all South Africans will surely be holding thumbs that he can put the frustration behind him by coming through unscathed.
Hennie Danniller, Jannie Boshoff, Johann Sadie, Rayno Benjamin, Rocco Jansen, Riaan Smit, Sarel Pretorius, Phillip van der Walt, Davon Raubenheimer, Boom Prinsloo, Waltie Vermeulen, Ligtoring Landman, Lourens Adriaanse, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Trevor Nakane.
Ryno Barnes, Caylib Oosthuizen, Lood de Jager, Francois Uys, Frans Viljoen, Juan Smith, Lappies Labuschagne, Piet van Zyl, Elgar Watts, Barry Geel, Willie le Roux.
DHL STORMERS: Jaco Taute, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Bryan Habana, Kurt Coleman, Louis Schreuder, Duane Vermeulen (capt), Don Armand, Nizaam Carr, De Kock Steenkamp, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Martin Bezuidenhout, Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: Stephan Coetzee, Pat Cilliers, Ruan Botha, Michael Rhodes, Rayn Smid, Dewaldt Duvenage, Pat Howard, Gerhard van den Heever, Joe Pietersen.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe.
Kick-off: 5pm CAT (SA, GMT+2)