The DHL Stormers will play the Phakisa Pumas for the first time when the two teams meet in a Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked encounter in Nelspruit on Friday and are determined to impress at Mbombela Stadium.
Following a hard-fought win against the Emirates Lions at DHL Newlands in their first Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked match last week, the DHL Stormers are focused on improving a number of areas of their game when they face the Mpumalanga outfit at 19h00 on Friday.
While the DHL Stormers may not have played the Phakisa Pumas before, Head Coach John Dobson knows just how tough it can be to play in Nelspruit, having been on a few trips to the lowveld with DHL Western Province in the past.
“I have been up here a few times, we lost here in the 2017 Currie Cup. It is obviously the first time, if only in title, that the DHL Stormers play the Pumas,” he said.
The team faced something of a disruption this week, with prop Steven Kitshoff and hooker Scarra Ntubeni ruled out after being forced to isolate, having come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
The hosts are coming off a morale-boosting win against the Tafel Lager Griquas in Kimberley last week, so Dobson and his charges are expecting a fired-up Phakisa Pumas on Friday.
“They would have got confidence from last week and we have had a tough week having had to prepare in two days with the disruption of the COVID issues.
“Maybe the adversity we are facing is good for us and will focus our minds. Last week’s performance already had us well-grounded so we will be up for it,” he said.
DHL Stormers captain Siya Kolisi made his Springbok debut at Mbombela Stadium and he is glad to be back, although his focus is on ensuring his team raises their standards from last week’s performance.
“I think the only time that I have played here was my first Test for the Springboks and I am really excited to be here and get my first opportunity against the Pumas.
“We know that wasn’t even close to the standards we have set ourselves, so we want to improve and take every game seriously. Their coach says that they are ready for us, so we are looking forward to a tight battle this weekend,” he said.
There are three changes to the DHL Stormers starting line-up, with young loosehead prop Leon Lyons set to earn his first cap in place of Kitshoff, while the experienced Chris van Zyl is at lock and the fleet-footed Edwill van der Merwe replaces the injured Sergeal Petersen on the right wing.
Dobson said that while expectations of Lyons should be measured for his debut, he is a young player who has a bright future in the front row.
“Leon Lyons was going to start this game anyway, he is a player we are very excited about. He has come through our junior ranks, he is a really strong, big loosehead in much of a ‘Kitsie’ mould.
“If you were doodling at home with a pad and trying to draw a loosehead you would probably sketch something that looks like Leon Lyons, big thighs, big deep chest, he looks like a classic loosehead.
“He did really well for us in U21 and wasn’t available before lockdown because of injury. He is a good ball-carrier and a really good scrumming loosehead. I don’t expect he will have it all his own way, it is his first game and he hasn’t played anything beyond U21 rugby.
“He is someone who is going to come through as one of the outstanding looseheads in South Africa. He is one to watch, it might not be his peak on Friday, but the start of a great journey,” he said.
Van der Merwe is the all-time top try-scorer in the Varsity Cup and Dobson said that his efforts in training made him stand out as a replacement for Petersen who is out with a thigh injury.
“We had been feeling a bit of internal pressure about that because Sergeal [Petersen] and Seabelo [Senatla] are our number one wings, but then you have got [Leolin] Zas, Edwill and Angelo Davids.
“Edwill was a Varsity Cup star who had the whole of the Danie Craven Stadium fawning all over him and was their local hero. He has trained really well so we are very pleased, we had to create an opportunity for him sometime so it worked out well.
“There were other solutions we could have taken, but Edwill has just trained so well and we are trying to back that culture,” he said.
As a Currie Cup-winning captain, Van Zyl will bring leadership and no shortage of effort and enthusiasm in Nelspruit.
“People often don’t appreciate Chris van Zyl, but he hits about 30 rucks a game, he is one of the talismans of the team,” Dobson added.