Damian Willemse’s game management will be key when the Stormers welcome a belligerent Vodacom Bulls pack as well as the big boot of Morne Steyn to Newlands on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
How badly do the Stormers want to mark their final Super Rugby fixure at Newlands against the old enemy with a victory? Coach John Dobson and senior statesman Frans Malherbe spoke about the team’s hunger and determination at a media conference on Thursday.
The Stormers have won their last eight home matches against the Bulls. Malherbe, who’s set to win his 100th Super Rugby cap on Saturday, has never lost a game against the Bulls at Newlands since making his Super Rugby debut in 2012.
The veteran tighthead was at pains to admit, however, that the clashes with the Bulls have been brutal affairs. Those eight consecutive wins have been hard earned.
‘They will come at us hard this Saturday,’ Malherbe said. ‘They may not have got the result at Newlands over the past few years, but it’s always been a tough contest and it’s always been personal.
‘Then there’s the fact that this is the last one [north-south derby] at Newlands. That will definitely add to their motivation.’
Captain Siya Kolisi and hooker Bongi Mbonambi have been ruled out for much of the season with long-term injuries. Dobson has selected Johan du Toit at No 8 this week in a new-look back row that features older brother Pieter and form fetcher Jaco Coetzee.
Dobson said that the selection of the younger Du Toit at No 8 would help the Stormers combat a crack Bulls lineout unit led by former Bok Juandre Kruger. If the Stormers get on to the front foot as they did against the Hurricanes last Saturday, halfbacks Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse will have the room to work their magic.
If the Bulls forwards set the platform, however, veteran flyhalf Morne Steyn will have the means to dominate territory and pressure the Stormers defence.
Dobson feels that Willemse, who at the tender age of 21 is playing his fourth season for the Stormers, is well placed to take Steyn on and win the territorial battle.
‘We just spoke about this at training this afternoon,’ said Dobson. ‘His awareness in that tactical kicking and game management department has grown exponentially. He is starting to see where the space is in backfield.
‘At times, he has gone off-piste structurally, but I’ve been pleased with the way he has been dominating territory. He’s much more mature now that he was two or three seasons back.
‘We’ve also got to acknowledge that he spent most of last season focusing on No 15,’ Dobson added, referring to Willemse’s stint at fullback for both the Boks and Stormers in 2019. ‘We’re happy with the way he is progressing.’
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