The Vodacom Stormers on Saturday have the opportunity to achieve what no other South African Super rugby team has ever done – win three matches in a row in Australia and New Zealand.
After trouncing the Reds and the Chiefs the Stormers now face the Blues at Auckland’s Eden Park on Saturday morning (SA time).
But the message from the camp is that the focus is entirely on beating the Blues. Coach Rassie Erasmus said: “Notwithstanding our previous wins on tour, we are not unrealistic about the task ahead.
“There are another 7 games to play at home, but for now our entire focus is on the massive challenge of winning against the Blues on Saturday.”
The Blues unexpectedly went down to the Western Force last weekend, but they were boosted this week by the return of flank Daniel Braid. Added to that playmaker Nick Evans has been cleared to take his place at flyhalf after suffering a head knock in the 17-27 loss to the Western Force last week.
Openside flank Braid is back after missing the first five weeks – following surgery late last year to repair ruptured shoulder ligaments.
Erasmus expects the home side to be fired up after two losses put a damper on their supporters’ prospects of a great season following a very impressive first three weeks.
“The Blues is a physical side and particularly aggressive in contact areas. They are a difficult team to beat and have excellent structures and lots of individual brilliance. It is a class team with a class coach that deserves respect.
“We will be up against the most cohesive and dynamic pack of forwards yet on tour.”
Erasmus would once again rely on the loose-trio to repeat the heroics of last weekend against the Chiefs.
“There are some good fetchers in the Chiefs back row, so obviously our performance at the breakdowns was a highlight of the game from our viewpoint,” said Erasmus.
“I really think that Francois Louw has become a bit of an unsung hero, he has good breakdown skills and is a hard worker, but obviously it was also great to have Schalk Burger back playing together with Luke Watson.”
The coach admitted that his team went to “sleep” at times against the Chiefs and that it could cost them against a better team such as the Blues.
“We did allow our concentration to lapse for a while. We gave away that second half try through poor one-on-one tackling, an area that I had stressed in a big way beforehand. Later we were forced to defend for a long time. I am not sure it was down to fitness. I think it was more the pressure of defending a lead.
“Understanding the need to carry on attacking when in front is something we are going to have to develop. There were times late in the game where we may have lacked composure and we’re going to have to work on that.”
Erasmus said that the Blues would pose a difficult challenge.
“They will undoubtedly be our toughest opponents on tour. They have a great team and a great coach and are brilliant in general play, while not neglecting structure. The only team they have lost to at home recently is the Sharks (in Albany) last year.”
The Cape franchise however, after two full-house hauls of five points, have reason to go to Eden Park with a lot of confidence. Captain Jean de Viliers said they want to win all four games on tour and suddenly that doesn’t look like a far-fetched dream any longer.
Teams for Eden Park:
Blues: 15 George Pisi, 14 Anthony Tuitavake, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Lee, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Troy Flavell (captain), 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Nick White.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Ben Atiga, 22 Joe Rokocoko.
Vodacom Stormers:12 Jean De Villiers (captain), 11 Sireli Naqelevuki, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Luke Watson, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 JD Moller.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Gio Aplon, 22 Tony Brown.
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: (06.30 SA time)
Referee: Paul Marks (Australia)
Touch judges: Brett Bowden (Australia), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen