Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit must again stand tall for the Stormers against the Force in Perth on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Etzebeth and Du Toit have combined to outstanding effect this season (both for the Stormers and Boks), again underlining their potential to become one of South Africa’s most formidable lock pairings.
With the two towering second rowers often operating in tandem, it’s no surprise that the Stormers are the No 1 ranked side for lineouts stolen (28). Etzebeth, in particular, has stood head and shoulders above the rest in this regard, with 13 lineout steals to his name.
This season, the Stormers have enforced an ambitious contesting strategy at lineout time and it’s certainly reaped its rewards, as evidenced last weekend when the Rebels lost five of their lineout balls, one of which resulted in a crucial try for Etzebeth.
Again, it should not have escaped the Stormers’ attention that the Force have the second-worst lineout success rate in the competition (83.1%).
It’s an area the Stormers can again look to target on Saturday as they aim to secure a second successive win in Australia that would enable them to decisively wrap up top spot in the Africa 1 conference.
The Cape-based side already has a nine-point lead over the Bulls and only a bizarre end to the conference stage could see them be overtaken. More importantly, the Stormers will also be mindful of the fact that their final seeding as a conference winner will determine who they host in the quarter-finals.
The Stormers will finish their conference fixtures by meeting the Kings in Cape Town, and so they should be confident in their ability to finish with a better points haul than the Australian conference winners (the Brumbies or Waratahs). As the third-seeded conference winner, the Stormers would host the second-seeded wildcard entry.
Permutations aside, though, the Stormers will simply be determined to keep progressing on an upward curve ahead of a home quarter-final that is already all but secured.
Understandably, coach Robbie Fleck has opted to pick his strongest available side for Saturday’s encounter in Perth, with just two injury-enforced changes seeing Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Alistair Vermaak coming in to start.
All in all, the Stormers should be expected to pick up a ninth of the season that would keep momentum on their side as the competition heads earnestly towards the knockout stage.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Stormers 7, Force 2
In Perth: Stormers 4, Force 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Stormers have won seven of the nine meetings between these sides in Super Rugby, including the last four in a row.
– The Force have lost 13 of their last 14 home games, including the last nine consecutively.
– The Force have lost their last three home games against South African opposition, however they have never lost four such games on the bounce.
– The Stormers have conceded only nine tries when the opposition gains possession within the Stormers' 22, the equal fewest of any team in the competition (along with the Highlanders).
– Dane Haylett-Petty (1,062m) joined Israel Folau (1,090m) and Damian McKenzie (1,052m) as one of only three players to gain in excess of 1,000m so far this season.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Force||Peter Grant (58)||Luke Morohan (4)||Dayne Haylett-Petty (1,062)||Matt Hodgson (162)|
|Stormers||Jean-Luc du Plessis (115)||Leolin Zas (5)||Cheslin Kolbe (665)||Pieter-Steph du Toit (115)|
Force – TBC
Stormers – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Daniel du Plessis, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 JP Smith, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Huw Jones, 23 Scott van Breda.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Graham Cooper (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
Jaguares vs Highlanders (to come)
Photo: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images