Blues coach Pat Lam has been impressed with the performances of Steven Kitshoff, Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi and doesn’t believe the lack of experience will count against the Stormers pack on Friday.
While Lam and his captain Keven Mealamu were all smiles on Wednesday, all is not well at the Blues. They may be coming off a big win against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld but the team will travel to Newlands without several key players.
All Blacks hardman Jerome Kaino will miss the rest of the Super Rugby season with a shoulder injury. Wing Rene Ranger has been suspended for a dangerous tackle while reserve flyhalf Michael Hobbs was released to join his family in New Zealand following the death of his father, former All Blacks captain and NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs.
On Wednesday, it was confirmed that lock Anthony Boric would miss the game against the Stormers because of a neck injury. As Lam admits, Boric’s injury couldn’t have occurred at a less opportune time.
‘It was a big blow to lose Anthony, it always is when you lose a player of that experience,’ Lam said. ‘Having said that, it now gives a few of our younger players an opportunity.
‘We saw what happened last week with Gareth Anscombe at Loftus [the young flyhalf scored all 29 of the Blues' points] . That’s what you want to see as a coach, young players making the most of their chances when they get them.’
The Stormers’ young players have certainly made the most of their opportunities in the first two matches of the Cape team’s campaign. The 20-year-old Kitshoff has scrummed well, Etzebeth (also 20) has embraced the role of enforcer and added some height to the lineout, and Kolisi (also 20) has flourished as a robust ball-carrier.
Lam said the trio has impressed him and that the Blues wouldn’t be taking these players, nor the Stormers pack as a collective, lightly on Friday.
‘He [Kitshoff] was particularly impressive in that match against the Sharks, so we will have to be on our toes at the set piece,’ he said. ‘We’ve been working hard on our mental approach to this game because it’s going to be a very physical battle. They’ve got some young guys in that pack but they’ve shown they can make an impact at this level.’
Despite a win over the Bulls, a team renowned for its forward play, Mealamu believes the Blues will need to lift their standards at the set piece if they are going to overcome the Stormers.
‘It’s very hard to win in South Africa, it’s always very physical,’ the All Blacks hooker said. ‘We’ve had a short turnaround now but we will be prepared for that challenge at Newlands.
‘While we did well against the Bulls there were still too many errors. We’re hoping for a lift at the set piece, because you want to supply a good flow of ball to your backs. We have a plan and now we have to go out there and execute it.’
By Jon Cardinelli