The Investec Stormers face a tough test of their mettle tomorrow at Rugby Park in Invercargill when they take on the Highlanders in their second fixture of the Super 12 competition.
Stormers coach Gert Smal this week made seven changes to the side that beat the Sharks in the opening match at Newlands last Friday, but he is not too concerned about the fact that three players will be making their Super 12 debuts for the team.
The task awaiting the Stormers is daunting. They have never beaten the Highlanders in New Zealand. Some critics argue that the Highlanders, away from the House of Pain in Dunedin and without former All Black captain Anton Oliver and Carl Hoeft, is vulnerable and ready for the taking.
They felt that Smal should have stuck to the tried and tested players.
The coach, however, doesn’t think he is taking a gamble by giving Andries Bekker at lock, Hanyani Shimange at hooker and JD Moller at loosehead prop debuts.
“I want to blood players in Super 12 rugby as soon as possible. JD deserves his chance. I’d like to keep Eddie (Andrews) fresh, because he is going to play a lot of rugby in the weeks to come. He’s also got a cut he sustained against the Sharks. It’s something we want to manage carefully.”
The Stormers know they have to improve considerably on their performance against the Sharks if they want to start the overseas leg of their campaign on the right note. “The Highlanders contained the Blues for most of the match last week and showed that they are at the very least competitive,” Smal said.
“They defend very well, they are very physical, especially among the forwards, and are outstanding around the rucks. We will have to be at our very best.”
Smal said he expects the Highlanders to be much more competitive than in their somewhat disappointing showing against the Blues last week.
“They would have looked at their game and where they need to improve. They will be a better side on Saturday. In this competition you can never, ever be complacent, because the weakest team can beat the best on any given day,” Smal said.
Moller will face a baptism of fire in the front row against the experienced All Black prop Carl Hayman. If he passes the test with the rest of the relatively inexperience tight five, the Stormers could be well on their way to what would be a historic first away win over the Highlanders.
The Stormers definitely have the attacking weapons behind the pack to wreak havoc with quality ball.
Teams for Saturday:
Highlanders: 15 Ben Blair, 14 Hayden Pedersen, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Seilala Mapusua, 11 Matt Saunders, 10 Cameron McIntyre/Nick Evans, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Paul Miller, 7 Josh Blackie, 6 Craig Newby (captain), 5 James Ryan, 4 Filipo Levi, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Clarke Dermody. Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Chris King, 18 Hoani MacDonald, 19 Colin Bourke, 20 Danny Lee, 21 Nick Evans/Cameron McIntyre, 22 Neil Brew.
Investec Stormers: 15 Werner Greeff, 14 Breyton Paulse, 13 Jean De Villiers, 12 De Wet Barry, 11 Tonderai Chavhanga, 10 Gaffie du Toit, 9 Neil de Kock (captain), 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 Gerrie Britz, 6 Luke Watson, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Rob Linde, 3 Faan Rautenbach, 2 Hanyani Shimange, 1 JD Moller. Replacements: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Eddie Andrews, 18 Quinton Davids, 19 Adri Badenhorst, 20 Bolla Conradie, 21 Chris Rossouw, 22 Marius Joubert.
Kick-off: 06:30 (SA time).