De Villiers set for swift return to action
February 18, 2009
Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus (right) and centre Jean de Villiers speak to the media earlier this week © Getty Images
Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus is confident that Springbok centre Jean de Villiers will be passed fit for this weekend's Super 14 meeting with the Reds after naming him in his side for the Newlands clash.
De Villiers has been bracketed alongside Dylan des Fountain at inside centre just days after a severe blow to the head led to him being stretchered from the field during the Stormers' opening loss to the Sharks.
Sireli Naqelevuki is also set for a return to action after he was included on the left wing where he is bracketed with Nick Koster. The big Fijian winger missed last week's game due to a chest injury he suffered in a friendly against Boland. Erasmus said the players' participation on Friday would depend on them passing a fitness test, but added he was optimistic that both would be ready for the Reds.
De Villiers revealed he got quite a big fright on Saturday when he got whiplashed making a tackle. "I was conscious all the way. I have got a patch on the back of my head I can feel, but otherwise I am okay."
Erasmus has also stuck with Duane Vermeulen at No.8 after the loose forward produced a strong showing against the Sharks. Last week, Erasmus spoke about rotation in the back row, but has ultimately retained the same unit that battled the Sharks.
"We'd like to rotate if we're winning," Erasmus said. "We have quality all round and there are a number of players pushing for starting positions. It was tempting to change the side, but we don't feel it's right at this stage."
Erasmus identified poor kicking as an area of concern in last week's season-opener but insisted that his side had enough chances to have claimed victory over their rivals.
"In the last five minutes we had four or five opportunities where we could have clinched the game. But we lacked composure and we needed to improve our kicking game. We also lost five lineouts and that is something we worked at. But the biggest problem was the kicking game and the composure we lacked to take the opportunities in the last 15 minutes."
The inclusion of 2009 rugby league convert Mark McLinden at fullback was one of three changes originally made by the Reds for the clash.
McLinden's selection after impressing in his 20 minutes off the bench as a new cap last weekend against the Bulls will allow Wallaby winger Peter Hynes to return to his preferred position at the expense of Brando Va'aulu.
Another strong performer off the bench, scrum-half Will Genia, gets his opportunity to wear the No.9 jersey after swapping places with Ben Lucas. A third impressive bench player last week, tighthead prop Laurie Weeks, also wins his second cap and a starting opportunity against the Stormers, at the expense of Dayna Edwards.
McLinden joined the Reds during the off-season after a decorated career at fullback in rugby league and has been undergoing a crash course in positional play in the 15-man code, with three trial matches and his first capped appearance off the bench against the Bulls.
Head Coach Phil Mooney said McLinden impressed with his performance, "Mark certainly showed his skill when he came on (against the Bulls) and we believe he's earned the right to play fullback this week," Mooney said. "We believe we'll get more out of playing Peter Hynes on the wing as well, so it's a combination of those two elements."
Mooney said form was also the primary factor in selecting Genia ahead of Lucas at the scrumbase and Weeks at prop. "Will is probably the player in form and he's certainly been a catalyst for our attack when he's been on the field," said Mooney of the PNG-born scrumhalf, who released powerful wing Digby Ioane with a neat reverse pass off a second half scrum.
"Laurie (Weeks) in his time on the field has been impressive: he's a good ball carrier and gives you something in defence as well. He's the form player in that position and warrants selection."
A shoulder problem for outside centre Charlie Fetoai subsequently forced a backline reshuffle with Ioane switching to outside centre, Brando Va'aulu coming off the bench as Ioane's replacement. Rookie winger Blair Connor, who played well for the Reds in pre-season trial games, will have a chance to win his first cap off the bench as an outside back replacement.
"Charlie got a knock to his shoulder against the Bulls and he's been out of contact during the week trying to get it right. But he still hasn't got full strength so we made the call to withdraw him this morning," Mooney said. "We've been training all week with Digby at outside centre and Brando on the wing as a precaution, so we were prepared for it.
"It's a great opportunity for Blair, who made the most of his chances during the trials and now has the prospect of stepping up for a new challenge."
Mooney said the Reds will need to cut down the silly errors and play smarter rugby if they want to succeed in this year's tournament. "We've just got to be a bit more rugby smart."
Ioane was outstanding, highlighted by his 45m dash for the Reds' first try, with Mooney insisting his star winger's performance was a product of hard work at training. "He works extremely hard on his game and he's a far more polished player now than he was 12 months ago and I think that performance was just a reflection of the work he has done off the field."
After being bombarded with the prototypical aerial kicking attack of the Bulls, Mooney says his side must now adjust to the expansive style of the Stormers. "They're very aggressive at the breakdown and they like to play a ball in hand type game as opposed to the Bulls' kicking game, so I think in terms of our defence I think we are going to have to be pretty good. They're one of the championship contenders and Newlands is a great stadium, so we look forward to playing them there."
Stormers: Conrad Jantjes, Tonderai Chavhanga, Gcobani Bobo, Jean De Villiers (captain) / Dylan Des Fountain, Sireli Naqelevuki / Nick Koster, Peter Grant, Ricky Januarie, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger, Andries Bekker, Adriaan Fondse, Brian Mujati, Schalk Brits, JD Moller
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Wicus Blaauw, AJ Venter, Luke Watson, Bolla Conradie, Dylan Des Fountain / Nick Koster, Percy Montgomery
Reds: Mark McLinden, Digby Ioane, Charlie Fetoai, Berrick Barnes (captain), Peter Hynes, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Greg Holmes, Sean Hardman, Laurie Weeks, Van Humphries, Adam Byrnes, Scott Higginbotham, Daniel Braid, Leroy Houston
Replacements: Saia Faingaa, Dayna Edwards, Robert Simmons, Poutasi Luafutu, Ben Lucas, Anthony Faingaa, Brando Va'aulu