Super Rugby Match Preview
Saturday 24th February, 2018
Waratahs vs Stormers
Venue: Allianz Park, Sydney
Kickoff: 19h45 Local Time, 08h45, 10h45 SA Time
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), William Houston (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
The Stormers have something of a mountain to climb in the next couple of weeks. The Waratahs this weekend, and then some really tough nuts over in New Zealand.
Just a week ago, their season kicked off with a really scrappy, somewhat undercooked performance against the Jaguares, which they won by 28-20, but which could, perhaps should, have been by a much larger score. They butchered at least three try scoring opportunities, and often left the backdoor open as they launched all their resources into the attack, keeping nobody back to defend if something went wrong.
When it did go wrong, and it was sure to happen given the nature of such early season encounters, the Jaguares were able to sweep back up-field with plenty of passing and offloading, stretching the Stormers defences close to breaking point. To the credit of the men from Cape Town, their scrambling defence was often heroic, and kept the Jaguares at bay.
The Waratahs pre-season is something of contrasts. First up they got thumped by the Highlanders, really thumped, and then they thumped the Rebels! This weekend is their first Super Rugby fixture, and they will be happy to host the somewhat depleted Stormers so early on in the year.
The Stormers have made four changes to their starting XV for Saturday’s game against the Waratahs in Sydney.
Pieter-Steph du Toit is back in the starting line-up, as is fullback SP Marais. Du Toit will partner JD Schickerling in the second row, with Chris van Zyl dropping to the bench, where he is joined by Sikhumbuzo Notshe, another returnee from the Springbok Sevens squad.
Kobus van Dyk will start at blindside flank instead of Cobus Wiese, who falls out of the match 23. (Not sure why, is Wiese injured?)
Marais’s return sees Dillyn Leyds shift from fullback to the right wing, with JJ Engelbrecht comes in at outside centre, and EW Viljoen moves to the bench. (I have never been convinced by Engelbrecht as a centre, he is of the same mould as Jesse Kriel and does not easily pass the ball.)
(Seabelo Senatla is being rested due to his heavy pre-season Sevens workload.)
The Waratahs have a much-changed starting XV for this game
The team features new recruits in wing Curtis Rona and centre Lalakai Foketi, while ex-Brumby Tom Staniforth and former Reds player Rob Simmons will form an all-new lock combination.
The starting XV also sees the return of Kurtley Beale to Super Rugby, partnering Foketi in the midfield, with Bernard Foley and Jake Gordon as the half-backs.
Ex-Force trio Shambeckler Vui, Mitchell Short and Alex Newsome will begin their Waratahs careers on the bench, along with prop Harry Johnson-Holmes and lock Nick Palmer as other possible debutants on the splinters.
Last week’s performance against the Jaguares suggests that the Stormers have a lot of work to do in tightening up all the loose bits and pieces before they become a fully functioning team. A win is always a good thing, but much that was good, was undone by poor handling, some poor decisions, and equally poor finishing.
The game against the Waratahs will tell us if last week was just ring-rust, or whether the boys from Cape Town need more time to find their game.
The Waratahs are coming off one of the worst seasons in their entire history. They will view the visiting Stormers as a challenge, but one that they could overcome. The Stormers arrive without a number of their heavy artillery pieces who are on the long-term injury list, and are further disrupted by the illness of Bongi Mbonambi. The ‘Tahs might just be thinking that this is the ideal opportunity to get 2017 behind them! However, they will need to fix their leaky defence, which coughed up a host of tries in 2017.
The Waratahs are somewhat of an unknown quantity at the moment. A huge win over the Rebels was good, but they were taken apart by the Highlanders in the first of the pre-season runs. An awful lot depends on Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, and Bernard Foley. If they are given space and sufficient ball, they can rip any defence to shreds.
Up front they have Hooper and Hanigan to chase the loose ball, but will they be as effective as Kolisi and Carr? When playing for Australia they tended to play apart from each other, instead of as a unit chasing the ball.
From my armchair, the Stormers forwards look a solid unit, and this is probably where they will lay the foundation that gives their exciting young backs room to run. The have a huge front-row, and a good lock pairing, with very mobile loosies. There are just too many guns in the Stormers pack, despite missing some of the really big names.
My thinking is simple. The Stormers will be desperate for a win on the road, and this is the one they will target with everything they have got. They know the Waratahs will be equally desperate to start well, but have not yet built any confidence after a horrendous 2017 season.
The Stormers, by 9 points.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Nick Palmer, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Alex Newsome.
Stormers – 15 SP Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 George Whitehead, 23 EW Viljoen.