Stormers pack in the deep end?
Stormers pack in the deep end?SHARE
The Stormers forwards have been impressive all season, but they face their biggest test yet when they take on the lowly Lions this weekend.
The Cape side have got to the top of the Super Rugby standings thanks to their incredible defensive structure and a pack which has maintained a hard, disciplined edge despite a heavy injury toll.
Although their first-choice loose trio was sidelined the Stormers still produced consistent performances up front as they secured top spot before the Test window, thanks in no small part to the impact of young stars like Steven Kitshoff and Eben Etzebeth.
However, this weekend they appear set to scrape even further down their depth pool, and may have to call on a few of the players who helped secure Western Province's first Vodacom Cup title last month.
Both Kitshoff and Etzebeth have played just about every week this year and are set to be rested, whilst Rynhardt Elstadt is serving a suspension for his three yellow cards this season, which leaves the Stormers desperately short on ammunition up front at Newlands this weekend.
Forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot revealed to this website that victorious Baby Bok Kitshoff will be rested on Saturday, and expressed confidence that Deon Carstens and Wicus Blaauw will be able to produce the goods at loosehead against a Lions team missing both Pat Cilliers and CJ van der Linde.
"That is one player [Kitshoff] we will definitely give a rest to. He has had a lot of rugby, we have discussed it with him and he was sore so I think it would be silly to push him.
"We have got Deon Carstens who played really well against the Bulls, and Wicus Blaauw is there as well with a lot of experience.
"I think at prop we are actually sitting pretty, we have got Frans Malherbe, JC Kritzinger and Brok Harris on the tighthead and we have got Wicus Blaauw, Deon Carstens and Steven Kitshoff on the loosehead," he said.
Proudfoot said that Etzebeth's injury was not serious, but with Springbok Andries Bekker expected to be back it seems likely that he will be given a well-earned opportunity to get over his niggle completely.
"We will make a final call on that but it is nothing too serious. We have got a bit of a luxury there in that we have got De Kock Steenkamp and Quinn Roux as well, so if Eben is not 100 percent we can look after him a little bit," he explained.
The Stormers have blooded a lot of players in their pack this season who have stepped up and impressed, and they are faced with the same challenge this weekend with Siya Kolisi the most experienced Super Rugby player in the loose trio.
Jebb Sinclair returned back from international duty with Canada on Tuesday, and with Nick Fenton-Wells having signed for Saracens and Rohan Kitshoff in France, Vodacom Cup openside flank Tyrone Holmes has been training with the main squad for the last few weeks.
Proudfoot is confident that his pack will be able to produce the same consistency they have all season, especially as they have had ample time to train as a unit.
He said: "I am not too worried about it, there are some good players around. We have been looking at a few of those younger players.
"We haven't been afraid to introduce young players this season and it has paid off for us. The longer they are with the squad the more comfortable they become so we have pulled them in.
"We have found that as long as a player understands his role, then he is not going to disappoint you, so we have just got to make sure that they understand their role before they get an opportunity," added Proudfoot.
The Stormers assistant coach is aware that the Lions will present a stern challenge at Newlands this weekend as they have little to lose and proved just how dangerous they can be by shocking the Sharks in their last game.
"The one thing you can expect from them is intensity. That is the way that they played against the Sharks, they controlled the pace of the breakdown and kept it really quick.
"That allowed them to get two or three tries when you thought there was nothing on, because they were playing with such intensity.
"They are a much better side than where they are sitting on the table, which they showed against the Sharks. They have got nothing to lose, and there must be a massive confidence factor in those players knowing that their destiny is in their own hands," he said.
Proudfoot believes that the key for his team will be to match the Lions' intensity on Saturday in order to overwhelm them and then dictate terms at Newlands.
"We will play at our own pace. We have shown that our defence can work really hard and outwork some defences, so we are confident in that," he said.
By Michael de Vries