I’m looking forward to that battle
Stormers captain Jean de Villiers says they are embracing the fact that the onus has fallen on the backline ahead of Friday’s encounter against the Hurricanes in Palmerston North.
Friday’s match, the Stormers’ first of their Australasian tour, has been billed as the battle of the backlines and De Villiers says the backs are relishing the challenge, with the spotlight usually falling on the tussle up front.
“They’ve got a quality backline. They’ve managed to score some good tries in the competition and they’ve showed that they can compete against the best,” De Villiers said of the Hurricanes back division on Wednesday.
“That’s a great challenge for us as a backline and I think the competitiveness that we have within the side will help us in this game. We play rugby to rate ourselves against the best and we want to take on every challenge that comes our way and hopefully come up trumps and this week is no different.”
The Springbok skipper and centre partner Juan de Jongh have been in formidable form as a combination and De Villiers believes they will have vital roles to play on Friday.
“We’ve got a big responsibility in the team from an attacking, defensive and communication point of view, so if we can give the go-forward on attack and organise the defence and make sure they don’t get momentum it’s a massive positive for the team. We’re enjoying the combination and hopefully we can go from strength to strength,” he said.
De Villiers is also relishing renewing an old rivalry against Hurricanes captain and All Black foe Conrad Smith.
“Obviously he’s at 13 and I’m at 12 but it’s a nice challenge individually. He’s showed over the last number of years that he’s a quality player and the last two years as a leader as well he’s done really well with the Hurricanes.
“He’ll be a threat for us from an attacking point of view and as a defensive centre he’s also really solid, so I’m looking forward to that battle,” he said.
The Stormers backline gained a significant boost in terms of experience with the return of Springbok wing Bryan Habana, but at flyhalf Gary van Aswegen will earn his first start in a tour game.
De Villiers, however, has full faith in the youngster.
“He can do the job without a doubt. The more he trains with the squad the more confident he gets and he’s matured a lot,” said De Villiers.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said that although the loss of All Black wing Julian Savea, who has stood down due to off-field issues, is a blow to the hosts, they have sufficient depth in backline talent.
“He’s a top quality wing and I’m sure our players would have loved to play against Julian but be that as it may they still have a quality set of backs,” said Coetzee.
“They’ve got some steppers if you look at the fullback, and the other wing is just as good, and especially the centre combination of Conrad Smith and Tim Bateman is a settled combination, so our defence will be tested.”
Coetzee said work ethic and ball retention will be key in the crunch clash.
“It’s a couple of international players playing against each other so they know they’ve got to be at their best. Our players understand it’s a massively important game for us; it’s the first game on tour and you’d like to start on a positive and winning note,” he said.
“The main thing is how hard we’re going to work for each other and how hard we’re going to work in all departments because they feed off turnover possession.
“If you look at the tries they’ve scored you can’t make silly mistakes, you’ve got to be composed when you have ball because you want to keep ball because as soon as you turn it over they’ll punish you.”
Coetzee assured that they are not overlooking the importance of fronting up physically and feels the Hurricanes possess a solid pack.
“They got real experience and a quick back row who are very difficult to be contained. They win their line-outs and their source of possession is quite good, that’s why their backs can perform like they’ve been performing.
“It’s a New Zealand game so you’ve got to be up physically for the game. If you’re not up physically against any New Zealand side you’ll lose the game.
“We realise that the collisions are going to be one of those areas that you’ve got to come out on top otherwise it’ll be tough, so we’ve got to make sure we scrum well and that our driving mauls are functioning well,” said Coetzee.