Preview: Blues vs Stormers
A win against the physical Stormers won’t come easy for the Blues and they’ll need to pull out all the stops to secure what is shaping up as a season-defining moment. Their inability to execute cost them against the Reds a week ago after they expertly ran the Queenslanders all over the park.
He’s been described as talismanic and maybe he is, but the one weakness in Keven Mealamu’s armoury is his lineout throws, an area in which the Stormers have created a lot of turn-over ball. It will be imperative that the likes of Luke Braid and the ever-impressing Steven Luatua stamp their authority at the breakdown and stand up in defense.
In an attempt to strengthen their attack, Francis Saili has been brought into to partner Jackson Willison as René Ranger shifts to the wing; this does expose their midfield as Saili slips a few tackles more than Ranger, and Chris Noakes isn’t exactly known for his defending abilities either. The visitors would need to be at their best against this dangerous backline; it hasn’t taken them long to make a name for themselves, and if they are afforded any space, Charles Piutau and Frank Halai will make them pay.
Most Likely to Score for the Blues: René Ranger
I find it quite ironic that Stormers captain Jean de Villiers is urging the players that are returning from injury to produce what is expected of them, when he is in fact underperforming in my opinion. But he did get one thing right, the Cape Town franchise find themselves in a good position, having dealt with the big guns already before they left on an “easier” tour where after they will play the majority of their remaining games at home.
Up front the Stormers boys have been doing a decent job, with De Kock Steenkamp being absolutely phenomenal in the lineouts. Against the Hurricanes Duane Vermeulen made a number of breaks from the back of the scrum, but the ball got killed in contact and I would like to see more interplay between the Stormers as well as better linkage with the backs, I reckon that would enable them to score more tries. The return of Eben Etzebeth is a long awaited one and I suspect the youngster will be keen to reclaim a staring berth.
The biggest news in the backline is that Elton Jantjies is also back from injury on the heels of Bryan Habana’s noteworthy return. I would like to take this opportunity to remind the naysayers that although Jantjies has had a below par season thus far, he did play a cardinal role in their victories over the Chiefs and Brumbies. Someone needs to bring some creativity to the Stormers’ attack and for what it’s worth, I think Jantjies is a much better bet than the insipid Gary van Aswegen.
Most Likely to Score for the Stormers: Juan de Jongh
This is a tough one to call; the Stormers generally fare better against teams that run the ball, whereas the Blues on the other hand seem to struggle in tight games. Depending on how much the hosts learned from their encounter against the Reds, this match could very well go down to the wire, another Habana charge-down maybe…
Gagga says Blues by 2
by Jackie Smit