Preview: Stormers v Chiefs

Date published: March 13 2015

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Saturday sees the South African Conference leaders take on the former champions in need of a boost as the Stormers host the Chiefs.

The Western Cape giants were brilliant in last week’s victory over the Sharks, getting the upper hand over the visitors’ high number of Springboks in almost every category.

Securing three tightheads against a scrum including Bismarck du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit and a Springbok back row was just bizarre, but very impressive.

What’s been so noteworthy about the Stormers though in 2015 has been the way their younger players have stepped up to the plate.

This includes Demetri Catrakilis, who is left out from the starting side along with his half-back partner Nic Groom. Choosing to drop your starting combination after four games and four wins together seems a little odd when taking into account what a big opponent the Chiefs are.

Win this game and the Stormers earn the right to be considered as Super Rugby title contenders, so why change a winning formula and not play the best side available?

Catrakilis aside, the whole front row of Steven Kitshoff, Scarra Ntubeni and Vincent Koch have surpassed expections – none of them are older than 24. The same can be said for Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende, Nizaam Carr, Siya Kolisi among many others. This is a young side on the rise, no question about it. What it will come down to against the Chiefs is if they can consistently pull off results.

The Chiefs by contrast are all about experience, packing a side of whom many have won Super Rugby titles while a few more are Rugby World Cup winners.

But they will have had a sour taste in their mouth all week following that shock loss to the Highlanders last Friday.

It should never have happened when you consider the 12 points that Aaron Cruden and Andrew Horrell missed off the tee between them, not to mention James Lowe’s nonsense yellow card, but the Chiefs didn’t get the job done early with their multiple chances and paid the price.

A backlash therefore is expected in Cape Town, with the Chiefs scoring plenty of points on South African soil last year in those crazy 34-34 and 43-43 draws with the Bulls and Cheetahs respectively.

With the Hurricanes facing the Blues earlier in the day and expected to go top of the New Zealand Conference, the Chiefs will have to respond.

The last time these teams met: Not so long ago in May 2014, the Chiefs outscored the visiting Stormers in Hamilton by five tries to two in a 36-20 victory. The Chiefs had led 24-6 at the break before tries from Gio Aplon and Carr saw the Stormers hit back, only to be denied as Tevita Koloamatangi and Tanerau Latimer made sure of a bonus point win at home for the then reigning champions.

Players to watch: No one is arguably more important to the Stormers than their captain, the South African Player of the Year, Duane Vermeulen. The colossal number eight has been very consistent this season at getting over the advantage line. Cheslin Kolbe will always cause confusion with his tricky footwork from full-back too.

For the Chiefs, the return of Tim Nanai-Williams is a big one, as he partners cousin Sonny Bill in a fresh midfield. Charlie Ngatai has been very good thus far but now the soon-to-be Samoan international gets his big chance in a first start of the season. One of the most entertaining players in the competition. No one has a bigger point to prove than Aaron Cruden after his off performance.

Team news: Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has made four changes to his starting XV. Amongst the backs there's a return for Kurt Coleman at fly-half and Louis Schreuder at scrum-half and on the right wing, Kobus van Wyk is back. At lock, meanwhile, Jean Kleyn comes in at number four for Eben Etzebeth, who is injured.

Meanwhile the Chiefs have made six changes. Japan captain Michael Leitch will make his Super Rugby debut at number eight and joins Liam Messam and Sam Cane in a strong-looking back-row trio. In the backline, Brad Weber replaces Augustine Pulu while Nanai-Williams, Bryce Heem and Damian McKenzie also earn starts, the latter at full-back.

Form: It doesn’t get much better than four wins out of four for the Stormers, who have beaten the Bulls, Blues, Lions and Sharks so far in 2015 for two home and two away wins. Across those four games they’ve scored seven tries and conceded only four. The Chiefs meanwhile still lead the New Zealand Conference courtesy of their losing bonus point from last week’s frustrating loss, their first of the season after wins over the Crusaders (impressively), along with the Brumbies and Blues.

Prediction: A close call when you factor in the Chiefs’ journey over to South Africa, but also their hunger to right the wrongs of last week. The Stormers have been red hot so far but this is their sternest test, and even with the strides they’ve taken in the pack this may well be their first defeat. Chiefs by six.

Previous results:
2014: Chiefs won 36-20 in Hamilton
2013: Stormers won 36-34 in Cape Town
2011: Chiefs won 30-23 in Hamilton
2010: Stormers won 49-15 in Hamilton
2009: Chiefs won 28-14 in Cape Town
2008: Stormers won 35-26 in Hamilton

The teams:

Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Demetri Catrakilis, 23 Huw Jones.

Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Jamie Mackintosh, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Tom Marshall.

Date: Saturday, Match 14
Venue: Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Kick-off: 15.00 (13.00 GMT, 02.00 NZST, 00.00 AEST)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

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