Week 8: One o’clock Sunday morning brings us a top-of-the-table clash of monumental proportions.
The Stormers have retained the team that won against the Sharks — that’s never a good sign for opposition sides looking to move up the ladder. They will try to dominate with their magnificently balanced forward pack and play for field position off the boot of Peter Grant. Fourie and De Villiers are the most formidable centre pairing in South Africa and bring power, size and experience to the game. The back three of Poolman, Habana and Aplon will put the high ball up from almost every downtown kick they come across and chase with a vengeance. What they don’t kick, they will run back with aplomb.
But none of the things I have mentioned are the best part of their game. That’s their defence. It smothers you. It knocks you back on your heels and hurts you. It’s a machine that works only with the right coaches, the right players and the right attitude! Somehow everything fell into place at the start of 2011 and delivered all three to Cape Town.
The Reds have made changes — lots of them! Three new selections and one positional change in the forwards, and four positional changes in the backs.
Greg Holmes moves out of the squad for Ben Daley and Guy Shepherdson comes onto the bench for his first run for the Reds. This weakens the scrum but should improve the work rate around the field. James Hanson comes into the starting pack for Saia Faingaa. He has looked good finishing off games and now we get to see what he can do at the front end. Scott Higginbotham moves into Leroy Houston’s No. 8 slot and Radike Samo replaces him at blindside flanker. This gives the Reds a wealth of tall timber, but still not enough to compete with 208cm of Andreas Bekker, the Stormers’ go-to man in the lineout. The changes are meant to give the Reds more grunt up front; only time will tell if they work.
In the backs, nearly everything outside Quade Cooper is different. The Harris-at-fullback experiment has been canned and he moves to the more familiar inside centre position. Anthony Faingaa shifts to outside centre to accommodate him, Digby Ioane steps out to the wing and Luke Morahan goes to fullback. This all seems a better fit than last week, the only concern being Faingaa’s ability to defend in the 13 channel. Any problems there are covered by Will Chambers’s return to the bench.
As a Reds supporter, I’m finding this a hard match to be confident about. The Reds do love playing South African teams and lately seem to lift for big games. Who can forget them knocking the Bulls off at Lang Park last year, just back from a four-week road trip! But this is altogether a bigger challenge. They face a team on a winning streak, a team that boasts class right across the park, playing in front of their own rabid home crowd with something to prove. The neighbours are in for another torrid weekend because I will be screaming my guts out come Sunday morning, riding the Reds home to their biggest win in South Africa! QUEENSLANDER!
Bottom line: Reds by 5.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Pro Legoete (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Stormers: 15. Gio Aplon, 14. Danie Poolman, 13. Jaque Fourie, 12. Jean De Villiers, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Peter Grant, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 7. Francois Louw, 6. Schalk Burger (c), 5. Andries Bekker, 4. Rynhardt Elstadt, 3. Juan Harris, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Wicus Blaauw. Reserves: 16. Ethienne Reynecke, 17. CJ Van Der Linde, 18. De Kock Steenkamp, 19. Nick Koster, 20. Ricky Januarie, 21. Gary Van Aswegen , 22. Juan De Jongh.
Reds: 15. Luke Morahan, 14. Rod Davies, 13. Anthony Faingaa, 12. Mike Harris, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia (vc), 8. Scott Higginbotham, 7. Beau Robinson, 6. Radike Samo, 5. James Horwill (c), 4. Rob Simmons, 3. James Slipper, 2. James Hanson, 1. Ben Daley. Reserves: 16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Guy Shepherdson, 18. Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19. Leroy Houston, 20. Liam Gill, 21. Ian Prior, 22. Will Chambers.