The victorious Vodacom Stormers will be further boosted ahead of their crucial Super 14 match against the Blues in Auckland at the weekend by the arrival of former All Black and Sharks flyhalf Tony Brown.
The Kiwi was part of the Wild Knights team that won the All Japan National Championship at the weekend, and will be flying to New Zealand as soon as possible to link up with his new teammates. Although he is unlikely to arrive in time to be part of the game against the Blues, the presence of his experience in the camp should have a positive effect on the team.
Peter Grant has picked up his game quite nicely over the past two weeks, with the Stormers beating both the Reds and the Chiefs with a full-house of five log points. But Brown, at the age of 34, is reportedly still displaying the form that made him so effective for the Sharks two years ago, and coach Rassie Erasmus will be tempted to play him and Grant together in the key decision-making axis of flyhalf/inside centre.
Gcobani Bobo has not featured as strongly on attack as the Stormers would have hoped, so a midfield combination of Grant at inside centre and Jean de Villiers at outside is starting to look a good prospect. De Villiers showed on those occasions when he slipped in outside of Bobo on attack against the Chiefs just what a good strike runner he is, and was denied what would have been a good wing try towards the end of the first half only by a desperate cover tackle by the Chiefs.
The other option of De Villiers being paired with Dylan des Fountain has been removed by Des Fountain having to return home to South Africa after sustaining concussion in a training incident last week.
Erasmus is unlikely to tamper with his combinations too much ahead of the Blues game, and neither should he. His team has picked up impressive momentum, with the 35-26 victory over the Chiefs putting the big win over the Reds the previous week into perspective. It was no flash in the pan, and regardless of what happens against the Blues, the evidence is now undeniable — under Erasmus, the Stormers are definitely on the right track.
Of course, the signs were there before they left South Africa for those who cared to look. They butchered their winning chance against a poor Bulls team in the opener, but that was the first game of the season and perhaps Erasmus made a mistake in not playing extra warm-up matches.
They could well have beaten the Sharks the following week, when they showed they had made great strides in the physicality department and in their defence, were it not for the yellow carding of Schalk Burger shortly after half time that turned the tide against them.
Some critics were quite harsh on the Stormers when they lost 22-0 to the Crusaders, but the Cape team were without both Schalk Burger and Luke Watson in that game — and they have both subsequently shown just how important they are to the Stormers cause. They would have been particularly so against the Crusaders, where slowing up the opposition ball is so important.
Crucially, one person who disagreed after that game with the negativity around the Stormers was Crusaders coach Robbie Deans, who said that his team, while winning comfortably on the scoreboard, had been stretched by the Stormers on several occasions during the match.
The Stormers, with Burger and Watson back in the van and Schalk Brits playing more than a bit part in helping them and the underrated Francois Louw, impressed with the way they got numbers on the ball at the breakdowns against the Chiefs, and their play at the breakdowns was predictably what Erasmus pinpointed as the highlight afterwards.
The Stormers coach though knows his men face a very different challenge on Saturday.
“The Blues are very good in broken play but they are also a very structured team so they bring a bit of both approaches. They are a great team with a great coach and they have a good record in Auckland,” said Erasmus.
Indeed, their record in Auckland took a bit of a dent at the weekend with their defeat to the Force, and it will be interesting to see how their management will react to their injury problems over the coming week.
Should the Stormers win they will overtake or draw level with the currently fourth placed Blues on the log table so there is a lot for them to play for.