There was an air of excitement at the HPC on Friday, after coach Allister Coetzee announced his touring squad for the DHL Stormers’ four-game Vodacom Super Rugby tour of Australasia.
Coetzee named a powerful 26-man squad, welcoming back fit-again stars Scarra Ntubeni, Eben Etzebeth, Rynhardt Elstadt, Elton Jantjies and Bryan Habana in the process for upcoming tour matches against the Hurricanes, the Blues, the Waratahs and the Rebels.
“It really is a challenging tour, and with the injury situation it has also been a big challenge, not just for us but for a lot of franchises,” said the DHL Stormers boss before the team boarded the plane to New Zealand on Saturday.
Speaking about the injuries and the timely return to fitness of the aforementioned five players, Coetzee added: “The important thing is not to focus on the injured players, the core of players to get you through have got to understand the detail. They must understand the plan for the next game against the Hurricanes.
“Etzebeth will be fit for the second game on tour and Elton Jantjies is about 60/40 for the first game but will definitely be back for the second game. Rynhardt (Elstadt), Scarra (Ntubeni) and Bryan (Habana) are all 100% ready to start.
“Pat Cilliers showed against the Crusaders at loosehead how well he scrummed in that game, and then we have got Brok (Harris) and Frans (Malherbe) as our two quality tightheads and then you can sit with Kitsie (Steven Kitshoff) and Pat Cilliers who can fall in there so at this point in time I think we are still okay.
“You have got to make a decision on whether to give a player some game-time at Vodacom Cup level, but unfortunately you are not here (Cape Town) you are on tour.
“I know Eben (Etzebeth) can play at this level, it is someone that I don’t need to question myself on. Why can’t he get the game-time at this intensity? He has worked hard during his rehab so he needs to get game-time at this level.
“We have got Michael Rhodes and Rynhardt Elstadt that can still cover you at lock, that is why Gerbrandt (Grobler) missed out – we have got guys on tour who are more versatile and can cover lock and seven so you take those with you so we have still got plenty of cover while we need to phase in Eben Etzebeth.”
The Stormers have a tough tour ahead of them, but coach Coetzee revealed that they would be taking things one step at a time – starting with this Friday’s clash against the Hurricanes in Palmerston North (kick-off 19h35 NZ time; 09h35 SA time).
“We don’t have the luxury to target certain games, every game is important for us. Our next game is the Hurricanes and they are playing really good rugby at the moment,” explained Coetzee.
“They are a very much improved side, they have got some quality players in that side. That Savea chap and Conrad Smith are quality backs and we have got to pitch up.
“There were a lot of things that worked for us against the Sharks, we have been looking to get different sections of our game departments all functioning simultaneously.
“It was pleasing to see that we cut down on mistakes and in crucial areas of the field we were actually more clinical. I want to see that improvement going forward and, with it, some consistency.
“We are looking at the Hurricanes only and it would be disrespectful to say that it is an easy tour, never. No tour is easy, even if you go and play the Highlanders, they will probably beat you if you drop your guard.
“I think we built on something last week which we want to maintain and work on and take advantage of by putting a bit of confidence back in the team and keep building on that.”
“The Hurricanes are a quality side and they have Beauden Barrett at the back, I see they use him a lot at fullback for his kicking game. The ‘Canes thrive on turnovers, that is why our accuracy has got to be even better and our execution has got to be much better against them, there are no easy teams on tour, never.”
The Stormers lost just one match on tour last year, adding to their impressive record in Australasia over the years. When asked about his team’s ability to produce the goods away from home, Coetzee replied: “The team honestly enjoys touring, they have good fun. There’s time for everything… there’s time for hard work and there’s time to have a bit of fun.
“The diversity in this team makes it a nice thing to go overseas and experience other cultures. This is what the Stormers are – it’s just a great bunch of players who enjoy each others’ company. We understand our responsibility, we understand our job and to get out of Cape Town is not a bad thing.
“I think that this jet-lag thing is no more (a big thing). All teams have adapted well, and we understand playing away in different conditions, we can’t change that,” added the Stormers mentor.
“We are also sitting with seasoned players who have travelled and played away from home for a long time (now). Even in the Kings squad if you look at those players there’s Andries Strauss, Wimpie van der Walt, Steven Sykes – those guys have been involved in this competition.
“It’s important for us, not just at franchise level, to win (away from home) and gain confidence going there at international level as well. I think the big challenge is always to be able to win away from home and I think our teams have really stepped up in that.”