Our rugby writer previews the fourth Super Rugby quarter-final being contested between the Stormers and Chiefs at DHL Newlands.
Robbie Fleck’s men are going to have to be at their best this Saturday as they are taking on a side that led the Overall Conference standings for the majority of the season only to be pipped at the post.
While it’s not exactly a David versus Goliath throw down, the Stormers do come into this one as rank outsiders to advance to the next round. Can Fleck’s men produce an upset in front of their home faithful or will Dave Rennie’s Chiefs make short work of their unfancied opponents?
Stormers v Chiefs | Saturday 23 July | DHL Newlands | 19:00 (CAT)
To Win (80 Mins)
Stormers 5/4 | Draw 20/1 | Chiefs 13/20
Stormers (+4.5) 9/10 | Chiefs (-4.5) 9/10
I feel this one is going to be an uphill battle for the men from South Africa’s Western Cape. They are yet to face a New Zealand side this term – something coach Robbie Fleck has bemoaned this week – and they really didn’t set the round-robin phase of the tournament alight. They have a very handy squad but the loss of Juan de Jongh and Cheslin Kolbe to the Springbok Sevens Olympic side has really cut a lot of the x-factor out of the Stormers backline.
Despite having the heart of their backline transplanted into the BlitzBokke squad, the Stormers do still have a few attacking weapons. Scottish international Huw Jones demonstrated his attacking prowess by bagging four tries in his side’s 52-24 victory over the Kings last weekend. Scrumhalf Nic Groom also has the ability to create something from nothing while winger Leolin Zas is capable of running rings around opposition defenders with his blistering pace.
The problem for the Stormers, though, is that they’ve lost their key orchestrator, young Juan-Luc du
Plessis. The former Sharks Academy flyhalf did further damage to an ankle injury he was carrying last weekend and has been ruled out of the quarter-final. Maties old boy, Brandon Thompson came on for du Plessis during the second half of the last Saturday’s game. And while he looks competent enough, he doesn’t possess the same vision, nor skill set, as his predecessor.
Robbie Fleck does have the option of bringing back Robert du Preez, who actually started the season as the franchises’ first choice pivot. It would be a bit of a gamble, however, as the youngster has only played a handful of Currie Cup qualifying games since coming back from a knee injury he sustained back in March.
Whoever Fleck opts to start at ten is going to have his work cut out for him this weekend as his opposite number is no other than incumbent fly-half, Aaron Cruden. The Chiefs ten loves nothing more than getting his support runners attacking the ten channel. His sleight of hand and delicate switches could well cause one of those two youngsters a problem.
While the Stormers' backline is nowhere near as potent as it was back in 2010, their forward pack has come on in leaps and bounds over the few years. They have the best locking combination out of all of the South African franchises – you could actually argue that they have the best combination in the whole tournament but you’d get a host of Crusaders supporters arguing their combinations’ merits – and they have so many options when it comes to loose forwards, it’s actually frightening.
Factor in the best tight head prop in the country, Vincent Kock, and you’ve got a pack that is capable of dominating at set piece time.
The Chiefs are desperately unlucky to have to travel to Cape Town for this one. Dave Rennie’s men have been in formidable form this term and lead the Overall Conference standings for a large portion of the season. Their 10 point defeat to the Highlanders last weekend, coupled with the Crusaders' shock loss to the Hurricanes saw them finish fourth on the New Zealand Conferences standings which has led to them having to make a long haul flight to South Africa for a quarter-final.
The Chiefs may have gone down to the Highlanders last weekend but their defensive effort still impressed me. There was a point in the first half where the Highlanders launched wave after wave of attack at the Chiefs line – I think this went on for about 7-8 minutes – but still couldn’t breach the Chiefs' tryline. This defensive effort was led by All Black flanker Sam Cane who was so dogged in the tackle that one is left to suspect that he may well be the real ‘Rambo’.
Another Chiefs player who really put in a shift last weekend was lock Dominic Bird who was brilliant at lineout time and got around the park like a hyperactive twelve-year-old. The former Crusaders man is going to have to replicate that performance this week as he’s coming up against what is likely to be the new Springbok lock pairing.
While the forwards will have to lay a solid platform, the man who is likely to swing this one in favour of the Chiefs is Aaron Cruden. The current All Black flyhalf incumbent has been in sparkling form of late but will still have to up his game in order for him to ward off the threat to his All Black starting berth that Hurricanes flyhalf, Beauden Barrett is posing.
The one area that has let Cruden down at times this season has been his tactical kicking. If he can remedy that problem this week, in the pressure cooker that is a capacity Newlands Stadium, then he may well convince New Zealand national coach, Steve Hansen, to continue with him as the All Blacks' first choice ten for next month’s Rugby Championship.
The Stats That Matter
The Chiefs finished the regular season with 11 wins from their 15 fixtures while the Stormers managed 10 victories and a draw. The hosts for this weekend’s encounter racked up 440 points while the Chiefs scored 491 points during the round robin phase. The Stormers had a much more impressive defensive record only conceding 274 points while the Chiefs shipped 341.
The Chiefs are competition’s second hightest try-scoring side having run in 68 tries – three more than the second best side, the Canterbury Crusaders, and three less than the Lions.
Last Five Head To Head Results
2015 Stormers 19-28 Chiefs (Stormers Home)
2014 Chiefs 36-20 Stormers (Chiefs Home)
2013 Stormers 36-34 Chiefs (Stormers Home)
2011 Chiefs 30-23 Stormers (Chiefs Home)
2010 Chiefs 15-49 Stormers (Chiefs Home)
Verdict: Chiefs 13/20
The Stormers have a forward pack capable of getting the better of their opposite numbers, but I reckon their midfield will cost them the game. Huw Jones’ is yet to really be tested and Damian de Allende, while showing glimpses of his 2014 form, has been a bit of a flat track bully this term - shining against the likes of the Kings and Bulls and struggling against better quality opposition. Back the Chiefs on the straight win at 13/20.