Rassie Erasmus values the contrasting strengths of Peter Grant and Willem de Waal and will give both men as much game time as possible.
As a player competing for the Springbok No 10 jersey, Grant is recognised as the Stormers’ premier pivot. Even when All Blacks stalwart Tony Brown played for the Stormers last season, it was in a secondary capacity. Erasmus ensured Brown stayed sharp by handing him a couple of starts, and if Grant had suffered an injury, Brown would have slotted in seamlessly.
While Brown and Grant were similar in their approach, De Waal’s primary strength is his kicking game. In an interview with keo.co.za, Erasmus highlighted the benefits of having two different flyhalves in a squad of 22. On certain occasions, you will need to adjust your game plan according to the conditions, just as the Stormers did at Loftus Versfeld last week. Although Grant is the frontline player, he may be required to play off the bench when the situation demands it.
“Every game is unique so we’ll have to assess things on a weekly basis,” Erasmus told this website. “Playing at Newlands is a bit of a lottery because the wind is often howling, and then when it rains you will obviously need somebody more adept to the kicking game. You have to call it as you see fit on the day.
“The most important thing is that Willem gets game time at this stage of the season. We managed Bash and Tony Brown in the same manner last year. If there is an injury, you can’t bring in a guy who’s had no game time.”
Grant will be used in the second half against the Lions this Saturday once the game has opened up. From the start, De Waal will be asked to pin the Lions in their own half with his accurate boot.
The Stormers are desperate for a win after two losses on the trot, and at this stage any strategy that results in victory will be lauded. However, this strategy may not work against other teams. Erasmus has acknowledged the fact and stressed that this current approach is by no means a permanent arrangement.
Erasmus also said he was mindful of Grant’s Springbok ambitions and would provide him with the necessary game time. While the Stormers coach rates De Waal’s kicking game as superior, he does not feel Grant’s own kicking is sub-standard.
“When I first came here there was a perception that he couldn’t kick. But I felt he did well and he has improved a lot this season. His goal-kicking and his kicking out of hand have been very good.”
In order to strike the perfect balance between the conservative and the expansive, Grant could have started at flyhalf with both Percy Montgomery and Conrad Jantjes in the back three. Having Jantjes on the wing would give the Cape franchise more depth in the tactical kicking department, but the Stormers coach said a winger’s kicking game is not a priority.
“I think Percy has done a wonderful job for us. He’s filled the role we always hoped – if Conrad got injured we knew we had a world-class player ready to step in,” said Erasmus.
“I’m not sure about having both Percy and Connie in the starting line-up. You need to have big, physical wingers in the Super 14, especially for defence. The kicking game becomes less significant if you are up against a team with two big, attacking wingers.”
The Stormers are under huge pressure to produce this weekend. Although Erasmus is determined to win, he doesn’t believe it’s a make-or-break situation.
“Last week I thought it was a must-win, but if you think that the team that’s in fifth position is only four log points ahead of us, it’s no time to panic. We are improving and against the log-leaders at Loftus we almost played to the best of our ability.
“We’re not satisfied with the loss, but we’ll take more out of that game than we did from the win against the Reds. I appreciate the fact that our fans are frustrated with the lack of results, but we are heading in the right direction.”
By Jon Cardinelli