Forwards coach Russell Winter says the Stormers will need to shut down Vodacom Bulls duo Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits at Loftus on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
Both players are revered among the Stormers faithful, with Vermeulen making 89 appearances for the Cape franchise and Brits 52.
While they were linked with returns to Cape Town this year, both decided to commit to the Bulls for the 2019 Vodacom Super Rugby season.
Speaking after a Stormers’ training session on Monday, Winter said the experience that Vermeulen and Brits will bring to the Bulls pack will boost the side in the north-south derby.
‘They are great players. The bonus that you get with them is that they are really experienced,’ Winter said. ‘They know how to play these big games. I’m sure they will influence the Bulls pack.
‘If you talk about the spine of a side, having a good 2, 8, 9 and 15 are vital, and those two players in those two positions [hooker and No 8] are really key. In saying that, we have also got great players in our setup. Those are going to be two key match-ups this weekend. Our guys are looking forward to it.’
The Stormers will have a relatively fit squad to choose from, with prop Steven Kitshoff the only major injury doubt after picking up a strain in their final friendly against Boland last week.
Winter said they will give Kitshoff until the 11th hour to prove his fitness, but was confident understudy Ali Vermaak and new recruit Corné Fourie could provide cover if necessary.
‘It will be a loss if Steven is not available, but Ali was fantastic in last year’s Currie Cup and really deserves an opportunity. He gives his heart and soul to the team and is a WP man through and through. He scrums well and does well in broken play. I really hope this will be his year.’
After last year’s injury nightmare, where the Stormers were without several seniors, including Springboks Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe and Eben Etzebeth, Winter said the coaching staff feel far more confident going into the season with a stronger and fitter squad.
‘It has been great until now. I remember last year we lost Bongi on the Friday [before the season]. Scarra [Ntubeni] wasn’t ready last year. We missed Eben, and JD [Shickerling] and Frans were also injured.
‘God willing, everything works out with injuries this year. But there is strength in our squad, and hopefully we can rotate players and keep them fresh. This year we have a good squad and depth, so it definitely does make me sleep better at night.’
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) February 11, 2019
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix