Stassen starts with Sjoblom backing up for Stormers
No one likes to refer to an alternative selection as a second string team but nonetheless that is the direction that DHL Stormers coach John Dobson has taken for Sunday evening’s opening Investec Champions Cup match against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
With the Stormers putting a lot of emphasis on their first game of the season against Champions Cup title holders LaRochelle at DHL Stadium just six days after Sunday’s fixture, Dobson always made it clear his first choice players wouldn’t be going to England as it would mean they’d only arrive back in Cape Town on Tuesday, three days before the LaRochelle match.
As he did when the Stormers played and lost in their last Vodacom United Rugby Championship tour match in Cardiff two weeks ago, veteran tighthead prop Brok Harris will lead the side against Leicester, who are likely to include two Springbok World Cup winners in the form of Handre Pollard and Japser Wiese plus a smattering of England internationals like Freddie Steward.
The Stormers may be understrength but they certainly can’t claim to be lacking in experience in the front row, as Harris is joined by another veteran there in the form of hooker Scarra Ntubeni. Sti Sithole, who started out at the Stormers some years ago but has accumulated experience at the Emirates Lions, is arguably a challenger to be first choice loosehead, and another player we might imagine could be playing against LaRochelle next week is former London-Irish wing Ben Loader.
The second row sees the promising Connor Evans teaming up with Hendre Stassen, who Dobson has high hopes for and expects him to challenge for Springbok honours once he’s got back into the swing of things in professional rugby after four years away serving a suspension after testing positive for a banned substance.
Stassen played in France so shouldn’t be a stranger to playing in Europe, while the back row includes the promising ball scavenging potential of Nama Xaba, the experienced Willie Engelbrecht and another up and coming young player in Keke Morabe.
Scrumhalf Paul de Wet doesn’t lack in experience and can arguably be considered interchangeable with Springbok Herschel Jantjies when it comes to being the starting No9, but young flyhalf Jurie Matthee, who has yet to play for the Stormers this season after making a solid start to his senior career with Western Province in the Currie Cup a few months ago, is completely new to this level of rugby.
Matthee will at least though will have an experienced flyhalf alongside him in the form of Jean-Luc du Plessis, who in the continued absence of his cousin Dan will wear the No12 against the Tigers. He has the talented and young Suleiman Hartzenberg, now back from injury, alongside him in the midfield, with Loader, fullback Clayton Blommetjies and former Lions and Northampton Saints Bok winger Courtnall Skosan making up an experienced and capable back three.
With the Leicester Tigers’ aerial skills being much touted, and halfbacks Ben Youngs and Pollard no doubt primed to bomb them and launch plenty of contestable kicks, those three players will have an important role to play for the visitors to Welford Road.
There’s an interesting inclusion on the bench in the form of back-up lock Dylan Sjoblom, who played well for Griquas in the Currie Cup last year and has been at the Stormers since the start of the season on loan. Junior Pokomela, an experienced looseforward, is back in the mix alongside Marcel Theunissen on a bench which is split six/two in favour of forwards against backs.
Of the Stormers players who started against Zebre in Stellenbosch last weekend, Skosan is the only survivor and the probability is that something stupendously and unpredictably positive will have to happen on Sunday for any of the players in action to be there for the LaRochelle game six days later.
On the positive side though, the Stormers team for this game does include a good smattering of players who picked up invaluable starting experience against Cardiff two weeks ago.
DHL Stormers team: Clayton Blommetjies, Courtnall Skosan, Suleiman Hartzenberg, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Ben Loader, Jurie Matthee, Paul de Wet, Keke Morabe, Willie Engelbrecht, Nama Xaba, Connor Evans, Hendre Stassen, Brok Harris (captain), Scarra Ntubeni, Sti Sithole.
Replacements: JJ Kotze, Kwenzo Blose, Lee-Marvin Maxibuko, Dylan Sjoblom, Junior Pokomela, Marcel Theunissen, Stefan Ungerer, Cornel Smit.