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Stormers coaches sleeping easier – for now

11 February 2019 - 17:06 By Craig Ray
The DHL Stormers forwards coach Russell Winter (L) head coach Robbie Fleck (C) and skills coach Paul Feeney (R) during a training session on February 6 2019.
The DHL Stormers forwards coach Russell Winter (L) head coach Robbie Fleck (C) and skills coach Paul Feeney (R) during a training session on February 6 2019.
Image: Grant Pitcher

Stormers forward’s coach Russell Winter admitted to sleeping more soundly at the moment compared to this time last year thanks to a squad that is almost at full strength.

In 2018 the Stormers started the campaign without key players such as Eben Etzebeth‚ Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe.

So far‚ only prop Steven Kitshoff is a concern for Saturday’s Super Rugby opener against the Bulls at Loftus after tweaking a hamstring against Boland last Friday.

But in Ali Vermaak there is a capable replacement while the rest of the Springbok contingent should be available for selection.

“We are holding thumbs on Kitsie (Kitshoff)‚ but if he is out he won’t be out for too long‚” Winter said.

“He will be missed but then Ali Vermaak will get a chance. Ali was excellent in the Currie Cup and he must have been close to Bok selection last year.

“He was one of our standout performers in the Currie Cup and I hope that 2019 is a breakthrough year for him.

“We have been lucky on the injury front so far this year‚ which has been great. We have depth and God-willing it stays that way.

"At the moment I’m sleeping a little easier at night.”

The Stormers did not register an away win last season and six of their opening eight matches in 2019 are on the road.

In the corresponding fixture in 2018‚ the Bulls pack outmuscled the Stormers at Loftus on their way to a 33-23 win.

“The Bulls pack at Loftus plays at test match level intensity‚ so we have to match them‚” Winter said.

“Our pack is up for it and we know that we have to be up for it because we were well beaten last year. But we have learnt from it too.

“Last year was a nightmare for us on the road‚ but we don’t want to make too much of it. We have addressed the mental side of it and we will play positive rugby.”

The addition of Bok veterans Schalk Brits and Duane Vermeulen to the Bulls pack is a huge boost for the Pretoria side while the ominous form Bok lock Lood de Jager showed in the Super Hero Sunday clash is also a warning light for the Stormers.

De Jager was impressive in the pre-season match at the Cape Town Stadium 10 days ago‚ poaching three Stormers lineouts‚ which has caught Winter’s attention.

“Duane and Schalk are great players and the bonus is they are very experienced and know how to play these big games‚” Winter said.

“They will have a hugely positive impact on their pack.

“Lood de Jager is a also a huge factor and in that Super Hero Sunday game he put our lineout under a lot of pressure. He is a world class. He manipulates lineouts extremely well.

“But we have some great‚ experienced players in our pack as well and I’m also excited about seeing the likes of Notch (Sikhumbuzo Notshe) and Trokkie (Juarno Augustus) having good seasons.

“Last year we lacked a little bit of depth and experience but this year we have young players with a season or two under them.

“I was proud of the way the pack went in the Super Hero Sunday clash‚ but I don’t think either side gave too much away.

“The pack we chose played with a tempo and aggression we wanted. The Bulls though‚ will be different proposition this week.”