Highlanders v Stormers preview




Carisbrook, Dunedin, 17.35 (04.35 GMT)

The Stormers, traditionally, are among the better travelling teams from South Africa. But, and this is a big BUT, they have never won in Dunedin.

In fact the closest the Cape franchise came to victory over the Highlanders in New Zealand was their 16-all draw in Invercargill in 2005. In their last visit to Carisbrook the Stormers were hammered 41-17 in 2003.

Despite all the “negative” statistics, the Stormers might well have been pleased to get out of Cape Town after their bitterly disappointing start to the season. Even in their win over the Chiefs last week they failed to convince the critics that they have turned the corner.

At least the players can no begin to focus on rugby, away from the ongoing controversy that has erupted around coach Kobus van der Merwe.

Reports the Western Province’s Director of Rugby Nick Mallett wants to expand his powers and then fire Van der Merwe – because of the Stormers’ poor performances – continued unabated this week. Some reports even suggest the Stormers’ five-match trip to Australasia could be Van der Merwe’s last act.

If there was some hope for the Stormers, it is that the Highlanders have not exactly set the world alight with their play this season either.

A fortuitous 8-7 win over the Western Force in Perth in Round One was followed by two defeats in South Africa.

There were some encouraging signs in their 23-16 loss to the table-topping Sharks last week – most notably the renewed grit within the team – but the skills levels still leave a lot to be desired.

Add to this the Highlanders’ faltering Carisbrook record – they have won just 10 of their 20 home ties between 2003 and 2006 – and there is reason to believe that the Stormers have more than just an outside chance.

The Stormers coach, Van der Merwe, put up a brave face this week, despite the gathering storm clouds.

He declared himself satisfied with his team’s preparations and their prospects for the game.

“I am very happy, the guys look determined [at training] and ready to get the tour off the ground,” Van der Merwe said.

“I have really been impressed with the example that has been set by the squad leaders and the senior players as well as by the enthusiasm of the young players, some of whom are on their very first tour.”

Van der Merwe added that the Stormers were expecting a strong reception from the Highlanders, who will be playing in their first home match of the 2007 campaign.

“They have been on the road for three weeks and have had a few results go against them so they will come out firing and we have to be ready for that. It will be a very physical encounter, especially up front, but we have faith in our pack’s abilities and will be looking to build on the progress that has been made so far.”

The coach said he was impressed with the Carisbrook playing surface.

“They have done some work at Carisbrook and the surface looks fantastic. By all accounts conditions will be dry and clear on match day which is conducive to an open game. This will suit us with our pace at the back,” he said.

Prediction: It all points to a close affair and with the Highlanders showing steady (albeit very slow) progress, they may just be able to edge the visitors. The Highlanders by less than 10 points.


Highlanders: 15 Glen Horton, 14 Lucky Mulipola, 13 Matthew Saunders, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Viliame Waqaseduadua, 10 Charlie Hore, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Craig Newby, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Josh Blackie (c), 5 James Ryan, 4 Hoani MacDonald, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason MacDonald, 1 Clarke Dermody
Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Keith Cameron, 18 Kane Thompson, 19 Hale T-Pole, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Aaron Bancroft or Jason Kawau, 22 Craig Clare

Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Breyton Paulse, 13 Jean de Villiers, 12 De Wet Barry, 11 Brent Russell, 10 Peter Grant, 9 JP Joubert, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Luke Watson (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Gerrie Britz, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 JD Moller
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Eddie Andrews, 18 Schalk Ferreira, 19 Francois van der Merwe, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Bolla Conradie, 22 Corne Uys

Referee: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Touch judges: Andrew Lindsay (Australia), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Television match official: Brent Murray (New Zealand)

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