Stormers clash: No 15s in focus

Cape Town - For vastly different reasons, respective fullbacks Israel Dagg and Jaco Taute ought to be particularly pumped-up customers when the Crusaders entertain the Stormers in Christchurch on Saturday.

The Super Rugby encounter has plenty at stake because both sides – more often than not among pace-setters in recent seasons – have started 2014 insecurely.

Seven-time champions the Crusaders are under special pressure after successive derby defeats to the Chiefs and Blues and not a single log point to show yet for their troubles.

The Stormers banked a bounce-back Newlands victory over the Hurricanes, following that undignified first-game battering at the hands of the Lions, but still flew abroad for their traditional four-match Australasian tour knowing it was grimly achieved and only in a late, concerted rally.

One ray of light, though, was Taute coming through his first start of the season quite convincingly after his 11-month layoff through a gruesome knee injury.

Signed from the Lions at the start of last season, the Stormers faithful saw him make a pretty tentative start for his new franchise in 2013, before he tore cruciate ligaments in a tackle to cruelly halt his acclimatisation to fresh pastures anyway.

So the Springbok has presumably been anxious to belatedly underline his worth.

Just getting through a full Super Rugby match unscathed was a triumph in itself for Taute, and he didn’t appear to be carrying any mental scars after his mishap.

There were few opportunities for him to show his once-renowned counter-attacking panache from the back, but he was solid defensively and on top of his game from a positional point of view as well.

His effort was good enough to inspire a popular former Stormers captain, Corne Krige (@CorneKrige6) to specifically tweet to Taute (in Afrikaans): “Great game, old mate. I am pleased your knee held.”

If Taute has been in the personal wars and now showing pleasing signs of emerging into daylight, the ‘Saders are likely to field a No 15 who has had issues of his own: different ones, but unusual to him.

The slippery Dagg, so often a heartbreaker for South African fans whether it be in a Crusaders or All Blacks jersey, suffered the indignity of being dropped from the starting XV following the 18-10 first-round loss to the Chiefs a couple of weeks back.

But he was sharper when he appeared as a substitute in the second half of the most recent outing against the Blues at Eden Park – despite the Crusaders slipping up again – and it is being speculated in the New Zealand media that he will slot in again at No 15 against the Capetonians.

With Dan Carter taking a sabbatical, the hosts have some instability at flyhalf at present, and with neither Tyler Bleyendaal nor Tom Taylor convincing in the slot thus far, current fullback Colin Slade will probably move closer to the action, facilitating Dagg’s reprieve.

As with Taute, expect him to strive to claw back lost ground ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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