The Vodacom Stormers have a mountain to climb when they take on the Blues in a Super 14 match at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
The Stormers clinched a morale-boosting victory over the Western Force last Friday, but Saturday’s game will pose a completely different challenge. The Blues have struggled to live up to their pre-season billing as one of the semi-final contenders, but last Saturday they spectacularly hit form.
The home side annihilated the powerful Bulls and showed if they fire on all cylinders, they can take any team apart.
The Stormers suffered a setback when Springbok No 8 Joe van Niekerk had to withdraw due to a groin injury. Other than that, said coach Kobus van der Merwe, did preparations go well.
“The preparations have gone well this week. We have worked hard on our forward play and had a very good scrumming session under the guidance of Jerome Paarwater earlier in the week.
“We have also done a lot of work on the lineouts as well as on the defensive system and one-one tackling as we let in a few soft tries against the Force game.
“The work done this week has paid off and we are confident that we will be better, particularly on defence. We are confident about the weekend”.
The Blues have exciting runners such as Joe Rokocoko, Viliame Waqaseduadua, Rua Tipoki and flyhalf Isa Nacewa in their attacking arsenal, so the Stormers cannot afford any slipups on defence.
The coach expects a difficult encounter. “It is going to be a tough game, make no mistake. The Bulls felt the Blues backlash last week and a lot has been made of the way they played that game.
“However, people have overlooked the fact that the Blues are a quality side. They have a formidable pack of forwards, play well from broken play and seem to have sorted out their flyhalf problems.
“They have a very dangerous backline and we expect they will take it wide to their wingers. They have been criticized here for being inconsistent but we will be taking nothing for granted. This will be a completely different challenge to the Force game”.
Teams for Eden Park:
Blues: 15 Brent Ward, 14 Viliame Waqaseduadua, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Rua Tipoki, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Isa Nacewa, 9 John Senio, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Onosai’i Tololima Auva’a, 6 Troy Flavell, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tim Dow, 17 Saimone Taumoepeau, 18 Kurtis Haiu, 19 Regan Tamihere, 20 Junior Poluleuligaga, 21 Luke McAlister, 22 Ben Atiga.
Vodacom Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 De Wet Barry (captain), 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Marius Joubert, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Bolla Conradie, 8 Adri Badenhorst, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Luke Watson, 5 Gerrie Britz, 4 Andries Bekker, 3 Eddie Andrews, 2 Hanyani Shimange, 1 JD Moller.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Neil Fullard, 18 Henk Eksteen, 19 Justin Melck, 20 Neil de Kock, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Jongi Nokwe.
Referee: Paul Marks (Australia)
Kick-off: 09:35 (SA time).