New Vodacom Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus clearly prepares himself for a physical onslaught from the Bulls in their opening Vodacom Super 14 match at Newlands on Saturday.
The young coach, who has quickly established himself as an astute tactician, on Wednesday announced a substitutes’ bench comprising five forwards – including two locks in former Bull Adriaan Fondse and Ross Skeate.
“We have two locks on the bench which differs slightly from the norm. Both Ross and Andries (Bekker) are confident to cover at flank, and if it comes to that (hooker) Schalk Brits can also cover loose-forward,” explained Erasmus the thinking behind the selection.
Erasmus preferred the promising and fiery Francois van der Merwe to Fondse in the starting lineup. “Adriaan played in our one warm-up game and then in the other contact sessions he was carrying a bit of a niggle.
That’s why we starting with Francois. He has taken part in all the contact sessions and it makes sense to start with the guy who is use to the intensity of contact.”
Springbok fullback Conrad Jantjes has been ruled out after undergoing surgery on his thumb at the end of last year. The exciting Gio Aplon gets a chance to show of his range of attacking skills against the Bulls.
Jantjes had a brilliant first season for the Stormers and particularly Western Province last year and his coolness under the high ball, his long touch finders and his value on the attack would be missed. He is also a strong defender.
Erasmus, though, was not too concerned that the Bulls would target Aplon, who is much smaller than Jantjes.
“Gio’s boot is big enough to cover the loss of Connie, while he also brings a lot to the party in other areas. They do have a couple of guys who can kick the ball far. Fourie du Preez, for example, can kick the ball from one try-line to the other at chest height,” he said.
“But Bolla Conradie is a good kicker, and Ricky gives us another option with his left boot.”
Tickets are selling fast for the game and the coach said from a South African perspective they couldn’t ask for a bigger start. “We are pretty confident, they pretty confident, there seems to be a nice hype surrounding the game, which is good.
“Even though they’ve had some changes in coaching staff and lost some senior players, the Bulls pride themselves in their systems, structures and culture.”
Erasmus, who played a handful of games for the Stormers at flank, said the Super 14 was the toughest competition in the world. “When you play in the World Cup, you play 3 tough games. When you play in the Tri-Nations, you play 5 tough games.
“When you play in the Super 14, you play 13, hopefully 15 tough games. I don’t know how you can set goals in this tournament – saying like you want to win two games on tour, or where you want to end up on the log.
“The plan is to go out and plan your lineouts, scrums, attacking game, defense, kicking game etc. for every single match in order to win. So, yes, the Bulls is helluva important. But so are the Sharks, the Crusaders and every one of the games following that first one.”