Preview: Stormers v Blues

Getty Images     15 Mar 2012     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Newlands, Cape Town, Friday March 16 @ 1910 local (Saturday 0610 NZDT)

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 15; Western Province / Stormers 6, Blues 9.

LAST TIME: May 20, 2011 (Auckland) – Blues 26-28 Stormers.

WALKING WOUNDED: Perhaps the best news for the Stormers was that Peter Grant will resume his normal first-five role this weekend, since the team has looked directionless without him in its first two matches. On the injury front, Rynhardt Elstadt and Deon Carstens are back in action at lower levels this week while Schalk Burger is progressing steadily following his knee injury. The Blues are starting to get a banged-up look about them at the moment, which is putting pressure on a couple of areas. As well as the longer-term injuries – a list that had Jerome Kaino added to it during the week when his shoulder problem was diagnosed as being far more serious than first realised – Pat Lam has lost Michael Hobbs, who went home on bereavement leave, Rene Ranger to a two-week suspension and now Anthony Boric to a neck injury. Sherwin Stowers takes over from Ranger and Filo Paulo starts at lock.

Round 1: beat Hurricanes 39-26 (h)
Round 2: beat Sharks 15-12 (h)
Round 3: bye

Round 1: lost to Crusaders 18-19 (h)
Round 2: lost to Chiefs 14-29 (a)
Round 3: beat Bulls 29-23 (a)

The Stormers got away to a clean start with a solid win over the Hurricanes, although both sides were lamenting lost scoring chances at the end, and backed it up with an ugly but effective four-pointer against the Sharks in week two. Peter Grant knocked over the winning penalty in that match with time nearly up, but had the Stormers been more accurate they would have iced the game long before the closing stages. A bye put another four points in the bank and kept them at the top of the ladder after three weeks.

The Blues start was hardly what they were looking for as a narrow loss to the Crusaders was followed by a dismal effort against the Chiefs, when they got a thorough hiding. Against most predictions and in spite of some injury problems the team turned it around at Pretoria, gaining a notable win mainly thanks to Gareth Anscombe scoring all 29 points. That victory got them off the slide but the Blues remain the lowest-placed of the five New Zealand teams.

WHO'S HOT: Two of the Stormers forwards who have good records against the Blues are Andries Bekker and Duane Vermeulen. Bekker stands out more, not just for his imposing size, and he has often played extremely well in these fixtures. His lineout work will be watched with interest, since it is an area where the Blues have problems that need urgent attention. Vermeulen gets through a power of work every week and his style suits matches against New Zealand opposition. He is busy around the field, a strong tackler, good at the breakdown and a more than handy ball-carrier – in short, he is the sort of player every team needs. In the home backline Peter Grant will attract a lot of attention, as the rearguard has not fired this year. While not regarded as much of a runner, Grant makes few mistakes and does set his outsides away when chances offer themselves. On top of that he is one of the best kickers in the competition, and a player who does not need many chances to influence a match.

The Blues really need to get their set pieces functioning, although the scrum always looks better when Charlie Faumuina is part of the front row. He is a big, strong man who has matured into a good performer at this level and one who can take an opposing prop apart. Add that to his ball-carrying and rugged defence and you have a good rugby player. There will be a lot of pressure on Ali Williams this week, since the lineout has hardly been a high point for the Blues and he faces some big opponents. Capable of much better than he has shown so far in 2012, Williams' performance could be one of the keys to this match. Gareth Anscombe took all the headlines last week and deserved to do so, since his display was high-class. He scored all 29 points (2t, 2c, 5p) and set a new Blues record, while his general play was also impressive. That effort was one of the standout individual performances of the year to date, in any team.

WE THINK: The big thing that looms over this match is the fact the Blues can be quite fragmented at times, and when they are it tends to be costly. Any team that plays like that at Cape Town is asking for a rough time and the Stormers are hardly likely to let their own game get loose. No matter how it gets dressed up, the Stormers are favourites and should be good enough to have a handy margin by the end.

Stormers: 1. Steven Kitshoff, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg, 3. Brok Harris, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 5. Andries Bekker, 6. Siya Kolisi, 7. Duane Vermeulen, 8. Nick Koster, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 10. Peter Grant, 11. Bryan Habana, 12. Jean de Villiers (capt), 13. Juan de Jongh, 14. Gio Aplon, 15. Joe Pietersen.

Replacements: 16. Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17. Frans Malherbe, 18. Eben Eztebeth, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Gary van Aswegen, 22. Gerhard van den Heever.

Blues: 1. Pauliasi Manu, 2. Keven Mealamu (capt), 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Filo Paulo, 5. Ali Williams, 6. Luke Braid, 7. Daniel Braid, 8. Chris Lowrey, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Gareth Anscombe, 11. Sherwin Stowers, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 13. Benson Stanley, 14. David Raikuna, 15. Lachie Munro.

Replacements: 16. Tom McCartney, 17. Tevita Mailau, 18. Brad Mika, 19. Peter Saili, 20. Alby Mathewson, 21. Hadleigh Parkes, 22. Ben Lam.

REFEREE: Glen Jackson (NZ)