The clash with the Lions will show whether the injury-hit Stormers have the squad to push for silverware in 2020, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Stormers will travel to Ellis Park as favourites to down the Lions. This statement is made with the recent performances of both teams in mind.
The Stormers claimed an emphatic bonus-point win over the Hurricanes in round one, and went on to secure a hard-earned victory over the Vodacom Bulls in round two.
The Lions, by contrast, have been less convincing. They lost heavily to the Jaguares in Argentina and then struggled to put the Reds away in Johannesburg.
The Stormers’ present injury situation, as well as their recent record away from home and at Ellis Park in particular, does suggest that the coming contest may be closer than most suspect. Are the Stormers good enough to win without the likes of Siya Kolisi, Bongi Mbonambi, Herschel Jantjies and Jaco Coetzee in tow? Is the present team good enough to claim the franchise’s first win at Ellis Park since 2015?
The Storrmers have a favourable draw this season in that they will play seven of their first 10 matches at Newlands. They have to make the most of that draw if they are serious about qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2017. One cannot fault them for the way they have gone about the early stages of their campaign.
That said, John Dobson’s team will need to win regularly away from home to prove it is a cut above the sides that struggled in previous seasons. In 2019, the Stormers lost six out of eight on the road and five of their six away derbies. For all the experience in that group, the team battled to get the job done when it played away from Newlands.
The Stormers boast a host of loose-forward options. Dobson may feel that he has the personnel to offset the losses of Kolisi and Coetzee – at least for a contest against a Lions side that has suffered its own player losses over the past few years. Juarno Augustus has returned from injury and Pieter-Steph du Toit has lost none of the edge that earned him the World Rugby Player of the Year award last season. Promising youngsters such as Johan du Toit, Cobus Wiese and Ernst van Rhyn can be counted on to make an impact.
The Cape side will miss Mbonambi at the point of contact, though. And with the Bok hooker likely to be sidelined for the rest of the Vodacom Super Rugby season, Dobson will be hoping that replacement Scarra Ntubeni does not break down.
The Stormers are also without frontline lock JD Schickerling, a player who has been earmarked for higher honours. Fortunately Salmaan Moerat and Chris van Zyl are operating well in tandem.
The absence of Jantjies may be felt. The scrumhalf made all the difference to the Stormers’ attack last season and carried that game-breaking form through to the Rugby Championship and World Cup.
His injury-enforced omission will leave the Stormers without a weapon around the fringes. As we saw on SuperHero Sunday and in the first game against the Hurricanes, Jantjies also has the ability to turn defence into attack via a well-timed intercept.
The Lions were expected to struggle in the 2019 Super Rugby tournament after losing so many senior players to overseas clubs. The young side did manage to score some impressive wins at Ellis Park, though, beating the Jaguares – who later went on to win the South African conference – the Waratahs and the Highlanders.
Like the Stormers, the Lions always do relatively well at home. They won’t have forgotten the last meeting against the Cape side at Ellis Park, which ended 41-22 in their favour.
The results of the past two weeks suggest that the Stormers should win this game at a canter. The Cape side would do well to maintain their focus, though, given the makeup of the current lineup and the Ellis Park effect.
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