Morgan Piek – Friday night sees Peter Grant running onto the park at DHL Newlands with the number 10 on his back instead of the unfamiliar number 21. Allister Coetzee has made only one change to the team that beat The Sharks at Newlands two weeks ago. Grant replaces Gary van Aswegen in the starting line-up while van Aswegen moves to the bench.
After the first two rounds of the 2012 Super Rugby competition the men from Auckland were virtually written off as non-contenders. The Blues brought the Vodacom Bulls back down to earth heavily after the Bulls had convincingly thrashed the Toyota Cheetahs a week earlier in Bloemfontein.
The Blues 29 – 23 victory over the Bulls at Loftus rang some alarm bells as this was actually the Blues first victory of the 2012 campaign and reaffirmed that old adage of, “Never write-off any New Zealand rugby team.” After a few big signings in the off-season, the Blues are the strongest New Zealand franchise on paper and should be respected as such.
The DHL Stormers have made mention that they are well aware of the “slumber” many teams have after coming out of a bye-weekend. However, they are one of only four undefeated teams remaining in 2012, with the others being the Reds, Highlanders and the Brumbies. These four teams all top the log with 12 points each. The Brumbies and the Stormers off course both have a game in hand.
This is a very important game for the Stormers to win; they haven’t travelled yet this season and will be hitting the road next week when they travel to Johannesburg to meet the MTN Lions at Coca-Cola Park. History has proven how important it is to get a win before travelling.
The Stormers centre combo of Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh face the incredibly tough task of containing the All Black and former Hurricanes centre Ma’a Nonu. Nonu will be making his debut in the Blues jersey on Friday night and over the years he’s proven to be one very difficult customer. Nonu controls the midfield very well and can create something out of nothing at the drop of a hat. Furthermore, Ma’a Nonu is solid on defence.
The Stormers midfield of Grant, de Villiers and de Jongh have more than enough in their arsenal to contain the bulky, 105kg New Zealand midfielder. The trio can all break a line and are very good on defence. They have the luxury of the experienced campaigners Joe Pietersen and Gio Aplon should Nonu slip through somehow.
The Blues side is looking a little thin after loosing Jerome Kaino, Michael Hobbs, Isaia Toeava, George Moala, Tony Woodcock, Rudi Wulf, Anthony Boric and Rene Ranger all through either injury or suspension. Good news for the Blues is that Tony Woodcock made his long-awaited comeback last night in a domestic New Zealand tournament and should be bolstering the Blues squad sooner rather than later.
Friday night’s game will be my pick for the game of the weekend as the Blues will still be on a high after beating the Bulls a week prior and the Stormers will be fresh and ready to prove themselves once a again. In all honesty, the Stormers haven’t really proven themselves as yet this season, although they have beaten both the Hurricanes and the Sharks at home.
The Stormers team is as follows:
15. Joe Pietersen, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Jean De Villiers (C), 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Peter Gran, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 8. Nick Koster, 7. Duane Vermeulen, 6. Siya Kolisi, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Brok Harris, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg, 1. Steven Kitshoff
16. Scarra Ntubeni, 17. Frans Malherbe, 18. De Kock Steenkamp, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Gary van Aswegen, 22. Gerhard van den Heever