The Stormers arrived in Sydney without their skipper and no. 8 Duane Vermeulen who is taking one of the rest periods ordered by the South African Rugby Union in a Rugby World Cup year.
The Stormers scheduled this but they didn’t plan to lose three games in a row to Kiwi teams after starting with four wins. They would like to have him running on at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night but he will be watching at home eating his cornflakes.
Duane Vermeulen – will be eating cornflakes .
The Waratahs were obliged by the fixture list to take their second bye week in the first half of the competition. They were in reasonable form before that and would have preferred to build on it instead of having, in effect, their third start to the season on Saturday.
Historically, the teams are evenly matched, and they are close on the table now, though the Stormers have played one more game.
The visitors may have an edge in goal kicking because their success rate is the best in Super Rugby at 86% whereas the Waratahs are a middling 74%.
Both teams have been easy to score against this year. The Stormers gave up eleven tries in their last three games. They had last year’s defence coach poached by the national body, but there is no excuse for the Waratahs, who have the same coaches and players.
Neither lineout is stellar but both sides should play the percentages and contest against the principal targets for their opponent: either Dave Dennis or Manuel Carizza – though Eben Etzebeth returned recently for the Stormers, and should be a target also.
It is about time the Waratahs executed their back line moves with more precision. They lead most of the ball-carrying stats in the competition but the they also have the highest number of turnovers conceded, and poor ball work is responsible for much of that.
Allister Coetzee – is he re-branding his team? .
It’s hard to say how the Stormers will approach this game. They played more rugby in their first two matches on tour than they did at home, and did not kick the ball so much. Perhaps this was a reaction to some of their small backs being bashed up on defence by the Chiefs before the tour, or maybe it’s the type of rugby coach Allister Coetzee now thinks is best suited to his inexperienced back line.
Either way, it seems to be a re-branding that hasn’t got results. The Stormers forwards are not a group accustomed to getting to breakdowns all around the park from their expansive play. If they keep playing like that the Waratahs should have the edge at the wide breakdowns—and maybe even in the tight clean outs with Vermeulen missing.
Naiyaravoro – will be running at small blokes like the Chiefs did .
The Waratahs starting team is unchanged, although hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau returns to the side on the bench.
His head knock from friendly fire at training was unfortunate, but his absence allowed Tolo Latu to get experience, and he starts his third game in a row. When Latu learns to throw to the lineout with more of a loop and control his poor discipline, he will become a considerable player.
Centre Adam Ashley Cooper has been named on an expanded bench for his return but it is not certain that he will play.
The Stormers have rested tight head prop Vincent Koch who had started in every game with loose head Steven Kitshoff this year. Nizaam Carr comes into the team to replace Vermeulen at no. 8, and Schalk Burger moves over to the open side, with tough guy Michael Rhodes starting on the blindside flank.
Juan de Jongh returns to the backline after recovering from an ankle injury.
Juan de Jongh – back from injury .
Key Match ups
Scrum v. Scrum
The scrum contest will be a cracker.
Although the Waratahs have one of the lowest scrum success rates in Super Rugby (and the Stormers, one of the best), they improved their scrummaging in the last two games under the guidance of Argentine rugby legend Mario Ledesma. He had them scrumming straight and holding the ball a long time, inviting opponents to risk a wheel and the wrath of the referee.
They will outweigh the Stormers’ pack by more than 30 kgs but it won’t mean much unless they are able to do what Ledesma has taught them, because the Stormers’ opponents this season have been successful in only 74% of their scrums.
Although Koch, the Stormers’ star recruit, is rested on the bench, his replacement Frans Malherbe, a new Springbok tight head prop, is handy. 23-year-old Kitshoff is living up to his early promise and is scrummaging strongly on the loose head side against all opponents, as well as making his mark in other tight work. National honours can’t be far off.
Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch – powerful props .
The Stormers will test the Waratahs especially on their own feed in the Tahs 22. In Round 8 they earned a scrum penalty try against the Hurricanes and they will be looking to do something similar this week.
But the Waratahs’ props have bigger scrapbooks and 124 test caps between them. Loose head Benn Robinson will fancy his chances of showing Malherbe a few tricks he hasn’t seen before, and Sekope Kepu will be looking to burst the Kitshoff bubble.
Wycliff Palu v. Nizaam Carr
Nizaam Carr played well from the bench in his two test matches for the Springboks on tour last year especially against Italy, when he made a difference to a team that needed a lift.
Unlike Vermeulen, he will be swerving into arms or weak shoulders, and also linking a treat; but he hasn’t been in great form this year, starting slowly after a pre-season illness and playing out of position, mostly on the openside flank.
Cliffy Palu is hitting his straps now. He missed the Wallaby Spring Tour last year and will want to displace the excellent Ben McCalman, the incumbent Wallaby no.8. Dominating Springbok Carr in front of Michael Cheika will give him a big tick.
Cliffy Palu – is hitting his straps .
Taqele Naiyaravoro v. Dillyn Leyds
The big fella on the right wing will like nothing better than to see left wing Leyds in front of him, and if fullback Chesline Kolbe comes over to help he won’t mind that either because he weighs 123 kgs and they come in at 80 kgs each, tops.
Inside centre Damian de Allande will be rostered to ride shotgun for the two light-weights but that may present other problems.
The Stormers have had some good halves of rugby this season but usually only one per match. They will be trying to start the game as they finished against the Hurricanes when they scored 17 unanswered points in the second half—and do that for 80 minutes.
The Waratahs sometimes disappear in the middle of games; so whichever team can give their best for longer and improve their defence most, will win this one. But since they have won twelve of the last 13 at home I predict…
Waratahs by 10
Waratahs v Stormers
Waratahs v Stormers
Benn Robinson 1 Steven Kitshoff
Tolu Latu 2 Scarra Ntubeni
Sekope Kepu 3 Frans Malherbe
Will Skelton 4 Eben Eztebeth
David Dennis (C) 5 Manuel Carizza
Jacques Potgieter 6 Schalk Burger
Michael Hooper (VC) 7 Michael Rhodes
Wycliff Palu 8 Nizaam Carr
Nick Phipps 9 Nic Groom
Bernard Foley 10 Demetri Catrakilis
Rob Horne 11 Dillyn Leyds
Kurtley Beale 12 Damian de Allende
Matt Carraro 13 Juan de Jongh
Taqele Naiyaravoro 14 Kobus van Wyk
Israel Folau (VC) 15 Cheslin Kolbe
Reserves Tatafu Polota-Nau 16 Bongi Mbonambi
Jeremy Tilse 17 Oli Kebble
Paddy Ryan 18 Vincent Koch
Mitchell Chapman 19 Jean Kleyn
Pat McCutcheon/Stephen Hoiles 20 Siya Kolisi
Peter Betham/Jono Lance 21 Louis Schreuder
Brendan McKibbin 22 Kurt Coleman
Adam Ashley-Cooper 23 Huw Jones
Location: Allianz Stadium, Sydney Kickoff: Sat 11 Apr 19:40 Referee: Mike Fraser Assistant Ref 1: Angus Gardner Assistant Ref 2: James Leckie TMO : peter Marshall
Stats by Opta