If it means halting the Stormers’ inevitable slide towards another mid-table Super 14 finish, an ugly win over the Waratahs will be gladly accepted.
They called it make-or-break when the Stormers travelled to Loftus Versfeld, and their fixture against the Crusaders was touted as tour-defining. The Cape franchise failed on both occasions and now find themselves in an all too familiar position. They’ll need to win their remaining six games to come close to play-off qualification, and they’ll need a few other results to go their way.
Captain Jean de Villiers told keo.co.za the Stormers are yet to panic and haven’t lost hope of a top-four finish just yet. The Cape boys face the Waratahs, Brumbies, Hurricanes and resurgent Highlanders in the next four weeks.
‘There’s been pressure from Week One, but we really need to win this game,’ De Villiers said. ‘The guys are handling the pressure well and feeling confident ahead of this game, but a win, in any form, is the only way we are going to turn things around.’
Coach Rassie Erasmus has restored the backline that proved so effective in 2008. Flyhalf Peter Grant is back to partner Ricky Januarie at halfback, De Villiers and Gcobani Bobo start in the centres while Conrad Jantjes has recovered sufficiently to begin the game at fullback. Because of injuries, Wylie Human has also been selected alongside Sireli Naqelevuki on the wing.
‘It’s a unit that enjoyed some success last year, and within the backline are a number of settled combinations,’ said De Villiers. ‘Wylie was a factor last year and I remember a lot of people questioned his selection back then. Really, you couldn’t ask for a better player to step in, his experience will be invaluable.
‘It’s also great to have Bash back at 10 and we know what he can offer on attack. Connie was the form fullback last year and will also offer us more options. Our attack wasn’t great last week, but the major problem was we couldn’t get out of our own half. We ended up chasing the game.’
The Waratahs remain unchanged after last week’s beating of the Blues, and once again Daniel Halangahu is preferred at pivot. Erasmus explained he always intended to start Grant against the Tahs, and it made no difference whether Halangahu or Kurtley Beale started for the Sydneysiders.
‘Halangahu’s the more steady option,’ the Stormers coach told this website. ‘Sure he’s more predictable and doesn’t try the fancy stuff like Beale. That’s not to say we’ll underestimate him, he’s a percentage player and can be very effective.
‘Having Beale on the bench is a big advantage. He’s like an Earl Rose, you never know what he’s going to do.’
A loss in Sydney spells the absolute end to the Stormers’ play-off ambitions, but a win, however scrappy, keeps their heads above water. Judging by the effort in Christchurch, the Stormers’ faithful (including franchise president Tobie Titus) shouldn’t get their hopes up. Only a clinical and desperately committed display will see them upsetting the Tahs in their own backyard.
By Jon Cardinelli