Fine-tuning for Stormers engine
Fine-tuning for Stormers engineSHARE
The Bulls are expected to provide a stern pre-season test for the relatively young Stormers tight five in Polokwane on Saturday.
The versatile Rynhardt Elstadt is the oldest in the Stormers engine room at just 24, although he and loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff have three years of Super Rugby experience whilst Frans Malherbe and Scarra Ntubeni both toured with the Springboks at the end of last year.
Junior World Championship-winning lock Ruan Botha rounds off the youthful tight five that will measure themselves against the powerful Bulls pack this weekend.
They will however be supported by a formidable all-Springbok loose trio of Siya Kolisi, Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen in what forwards coach Matt Proudfoot described as their strongest available team for the first of three warm-up games.
Proudfoot believes the Bulls will provide the 'ultimate test' up front, with the set-piece battle set to be particularly tough.
"In either of the set-phases I think it is probably the ultimate test in South Africa to face the Bulls. Your set-phase gets put under a lot of pressure and your systems get tested.
"I think for all the tight forwards it is going to be a good test to see where we are and that is where our focus has been this past week," he said.
With locks De Kock Steenkamp, Manuel Carizza and Eben Etzebeth sidelined with different injury concerns, the warm-up at the Peter Mokaba Stadium should provide a good test of the Stormers' second row depth.
Proudfoot knows what he has got in Elstadt who has proven himself as a destructive No.4 lock at Super Rugby level before, and he expects him to set the tone in terms of physicality on Saturday.
"I think Rynhardt is a special player, we missed him at the back-end of the Currie Cup with that niggle but it is good to have him back, he brings a lot of intensity and if you look at our six, seven, eight and four there is a lot of physicality there.
"He has always been a good set-phase forward and he is experienced now," he said.
Elstadt will be expected to provide guidance for the promising but inexperienced Botha who was sidelined through injury for most of last year.
Proudfoot is excited about seeing how the lanky youngster performs under pressure, especially after putting in so much line-out work with him in the pre-season.
"We saw him playing in the Under-20 World Cup Final against New Zealand and he played really well – that was the catalyst to bring him to Cape Town.
"He has done really well in the system, he had a bad year last year with an injury but he has done well, he has worked on his frame so I think he is a young guy who is developing nicely.
"It is great to give him an opportunity, we have spent a lot of time on the system, he is comfortable with it and he has got a couple of experienced heads around who can give him a lot of information," he explained.
Another player who is expected to make an impression this year is Ntubeni who Proudfoot says has looked a different player since returning from touring with the Springboks, although he did not get on the pitch.
"You can see his confidence within the group, he has come back with more of a focus to detail and that has been pleasing. He has always shown promise and at the beginning of last year when he has that shoulder injury it was unfortunate, I thought that would be his breakthrough year.
"I think the Currie Cup was great for him, he played a lot, got his momentum up and I think he has now built on that momentum. So you can see that mental maturity is there with that enthusiasm he has got," he said.
Although this is the best available tight five, Proudfoot made it clear that they are being pushed hard by others in the squad who will get a chance to stake their claim before the Super Rugby season starts.
"Our selection is based on the best possible team we could pick for week one, and we will look to change it up for week two and bring in some guys that have been niggly this week.
"Obviously there is competition in the squad, there has been competition in the squad since day one of pre-season. If I look at the hooker situation that is what has brought the best out of all three of them.
"You can't play a Super Rugby competition with the length it is without that elemnt in the squad where guys are going to push each other," he said.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements – from: Bandise Maku, Marcel van der Merwe, Hencus van Wyk, Jono Ross, Rudi Paige, Handré Pollard, Ulrich Beyers, Travis Ismaiel.
Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Damian de Allende, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements – from: Tiaan Liebenberg, Oliver Kebble, Alistair Vermaak/Justin Ackerman, Jean Kleyn, Michael Rhodes, Nizaam Carr, Nic Groom, Gary van Aswegen, Scott van Breda, Ryno Eksteen, Deon Fourie.
Date: Saturday, February 1
Venue: Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe
*Meanwhile in the curtain-raiser the Blue Bulls Vodacom Cup team will take on the Golden Lions.
Blue Bulls (to play the Golden Lions): 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Ulrich Beyers, 11 Jesse Kriel, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements – from: Bandise Maku, Juan Schoeman, Hencus van Wyk, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Wiaan Liebenberg, Rudi Paige, Tian Schoeman, Waylon Murray, Ryan Nell, Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
Golden Lions: 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Vainon Willis, 10 Guy Cronje (captain), 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Stephan de Witt, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Jacobus Roux, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements – from: Mark Pretorius, David Kounga, Pieter Vorster, MB Lusaseni, Lourens Erasmus, Lambert Groenewald, Jano Venter, Ricky Schroeder, Kobus de Kock, Deon Helberg, Brendon Hewitt.
Date: Saturday, February 1
Venue: Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane
Kick-off: 15.00 (13.00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden