Saracens set to test Stormers ‘soft underbelly’



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The touring Saracens are well-equipped to test the general perception that the Stormers’ forward play has been the side’s soft underbelly for some time now.

The English tourists have a record as a side studded with physicality and brawn, and that aspect of their game will come to light at Newlands on Sunday (kick-off 4pm) when the Stormers play their first Super 14 warm-up match for the season.

Saracens have also established themselves as one of the best scrummagers in European competitions and, under their new Director of Rugby Eddie Jones, they stepped up the intensity upfront this season.

Former All Black great Chris Jack, who has been named as Saracens’ match day captain for Sunday, said on his arrival in the Mother City on Thursday that the Northern Hemisphere playing conditions demanded that teams have a solid pack as a platform for their game plan.

“In the North, the competitions are played in a more strict, forward-dominated way,” said Jack, a world-famous line-out jumper who will be playing flank against the Stormers on Sunday.

“You play on frozen pitches at times and you need to play to structured patterns. That’s why the game is slower in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Another member of the Saracens tour who addressed the media on arrival was Wikus van Heerden, the former Bulls and Springbok loosie. He too spoke about the dominant role of the forwards in Europe.

“There is a great emphasis on forward play and just happens to be that way because of the surface,” said van Heerden.

“It can be a real grind playing in the mud and the forwards have to play like a unit.”

Last season, Stormers head coach Rassie Erasmus brought in Adriaan Fondse as a first step to add some grunt to his pack but then, during the season, several key forwards were laid low by a succession of injuries as the Super 14 went its course.

As a result, the Stormers’ pack never really had a chance to settle down as a unit and opposition coaches always targeted what they felt what was the soft underbelly of the Cape franchise.

Stormers’ assistant coach Gary Gold has also admitted that there was a lot of talk about the Stormers’ ability upfront but he felt that the Saracens clash will go a long way to test the progress of his side’s efforts to beef up their general forward play.

Gold said that most teams battled to cope with Saracens’ forward play in Europe.

According to skipper Jack, Saracens will have to adjust quickly to the unfamiliar Super 14 rules, as well as the faster tempo of the game in the Southern Hemisphere.

He also said that the team would be trying out new combinations in an effort to bolster the reserve strength in the squad. The rest of the Saracens squad will be playing in a Heineken Cup match in France on Friday evening.

Another familiar face in the touring party was that of former Stormers and WP halfback Neil de Kock, who is nursing an arm injury and will be out of action for five more weeks.

“When it was penned on our calendar that we were going to Cape Town and playing the Stormers at Newlands, I was really looking forward to it but, as rugby goes, I unfortunately broke my arm two weeks ago, and am going to be out for a while,” said de Kock.

“I’m massively disappointed that I can’t play against my old team, but also disappointed that I can’t contribute to the Saracens team for the next couple of weeks.

“It’s frustrating but at the same time it’s good to be out here with the guys as part of the training camp.” With De Kock sidelined, the Newlands faithful will still see one of their favourite sons in a Saracens jersey.

The Stellenbosch-born Cobus Visagie will be propping the Saracens scrum and the strongman should pose a problem or two for the Stormers’ front rowers.

The former Paul Roos Gymnasium schoolboy last played for the Stormers and WP in the 2003 season.

Sapa –

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