Preview: Hurricanes vs Stormers
Last week the Hurricanes narrowly escaped from suffering the same humiliating fate of the Crusaders after a revitalized second half surge by the Force. Things don’t get any easier as they now have to host the upward curving Stormers before they hit the road to South Africa.
It has been patently obvious that they seriously miss Cory Jane, but that drum has been beaten into oblivion and they will simply need to adept or die. Jane was to André Taylor that which Jonah Lomu was to Christian Cullen, but he’s not there, so someone else needs to find a way to bring Taylor into the line more fervently. They have been kicking the ball away an uncharacteristic amount of times, which exposed their notoriously average defensive system, hence scoring far fewer tries than last year and leaking more. After two failed performances at fullback, it’s good to see Beauden Barrett shifting back to first five-eight as Taylor is afforded another chance at the back. Unfortunately with that good new, comes the bad, as danger-man Julian Savea apparently took his on-field frustrations home and landed himself an assault charge; his withdrawal now opens the door for Matt Proctor to make his Super Rugby debut. Another member of last year’s sensational seven that haven’t produced anything special, is TJ Perenara – the youngster needs to get more involved and make less errors if he wants to get back to the standard he has set.
I really have been rather impressed with the Canes forwards; they have formed a respectable unit and have managed to stand their ground against most. The front row has been sublime, Victor Vito is back to lend extra strength in combination with the continuously impressive Brad Shields and for the first time in a month the previously dynamic duo of Jeremy Thrush and Jason Eaton will align forces again. They have an exceptionally devastating backline and although they have been firing more blanks of late, you are always aware of the threat they pose, all they need is a small spark and some quality possession. Therefore, the forwards will have to be at their utter best and everyone else must up their game.
Most Likely to Score for the Hurricanes: Ben Franks
A lot has been said about the Stormers early season woes, but if one takes into account that they have faced a handful of the log toppers – upending three of them – and now have a relatively “easier” trip to Australasia before finishing the season at home bar one visit to Port Elizabeth, they still have a very realistic shot at the play-offs. Getting off to a good start on tour is crucial to their success and a win in Palmerston North will get the ball rolling nicely.
Alistair Coetzee’s Stormers got their own basket of hope in that Bryan Habana is back to full fitness and you can bet your bottom dollar that the hard-working speedster will be hungry after many weeks in the bleachers. With Gary van Aswegen and Dewaldt Duvenage as halfbacks, it is all but written in stone that any wished upon flamboyance would need to be initiated elsewhere. Jean de Villiers possesses the skill to make anyone around him shine when he straightens the line, it is imperative that he does so more often; and someone just needs to teach Joe Pietersen not to blindly run into traffic when he takes off all on his own.
The forwards have been getting the job done although no-one has really put their hand up for a spot in the national team. Only Deon Fourie is regularly carrying the ball over the advantage line and even though he slightly weakens their set phases, he is an essential in the loose. Their pack is boosted even more as Rynardt Elstadt makes his way onto the bench in addition to the long awaited return of Scarra Ntubeni. This is very much another must win match for the Stormers and a lot will depend on where Andries Bekker feels like playing, he has an important job to do at the breakdown without hanging around in the backline, wasting valuable possession more often than not.
Most Likely to Score for the Stormers: Andries Bekker
Seeing that the Canes have lost another attacking genius whilst the Stormers get theirs back and considering the hosts’ dodgy defensive strategies, I reckon the visitors are in with a good chance of leapfrogging to the top of the South African conference.
Gagga says Stormers by 12
by Jackie Smit