Stormers not going to take the foot off the pedal for Crusaders

2012-04-12 00:00

CAPE TOWN — So much for suggestions that the Stormers might be tempted to step off the pedal just a little, strategically, and rest some key players for their Super Rugby meeting with the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.

Instead, the unbeaten log-leaders’ side to tackle the seven-time champions bristles with all the fit bankers at their disposal, particularly in the pack.

Two of their most valuable but overworked forwards last season, Andries Bekker and Duane Vermeulen — both of whom almost inevitably succumbed to long-term injury toward the end of the campaign — were whispered by some scribes this week to be possibly in line for a break from starting duty against the Crusaders.

But the stalwarts have been summoned to arms this weekend as the Stormers clearly wish to do everything they can to retain winning momentum and perhaps only tinker with their ranks more meaningfully for the (arguably) lesser tour tasks across the Tasman in Australia — against the Reds and Force respectively.

The only reason that backline game-breaker Gio Aplon does not start on Saturday, and Nick Koster is not considered for the bench, is that both picked up knocks in the commendable first-up tour victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin.

For the rest, Allister Coetzee and his co-strategists have stuck with wheeling out their big guns. Brok Harris’s superior experience and known strong donkey-work rate have earned him the nod over developing tighthead Frans Malherbe so that the prop combination does not look too “rookie” against the mighty-scrumming Crusaders.

Interestingly, this match is just beginning to shape as a likely assault of the home team’s powerful scrummage — a cornerstone of their clear-cut semi-final triumph at Newlands last year, let’s not forget — against a multi-option Stormers lineout.

The Franks brothers, Wyatt Crockett and others in the Crusaders front five no doubt relish the chance for as much “crouch, touch, pause, engage” as possible — albeit against a rival eight believed to have stiffened its act in this department in 2012. However, expect the Stormers to be happy enough for the ball to go out of play and an array of tall timber to either win their own ball comfortably or pilfer some takes on Corey Flynn’s throw.

The Stormers lineout does bristle with options, given that the physically unrivalled, 2,08 metre Bekker stays integral to plans on Saturday and there are effectively two other locks as target options for hooker Tiaan Liebenberg in the shape of Eben Etzebeth and Rynhardt Elstadt, albeit that the latter is having a stint back at blindside flank.

Number eight Vermeulen is also a quality lineout factor, so the visitors will not expect to play second fiddle at all in this area of play.

They will also be aware that the Crusaders, a little iffy and inconsistent in overall terms in early-season, are currently adapting to life without their own long-time hard man of the second row, Brad Thorn.

The 37-year-old World Cup medal-winner last year is having a twilight career in the less demanding environment of Japan, plus a short-term deal with Ireland’s Leinster.

His absence may be just one reason why the Crusaders currently sport an insecure three-wins-and-three-losses record, and will be in catch-up trouble if they lose this one.

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