Stormers will just make “a few tweaks” for Paris cold

rugby18 January 2024 06:39| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Labeeb Levy © Gallo Images

The DHL Stormers will be embracing northern hemisphere conditions in their decisive Investec Champions Cup pool 4 clash with Stade Francais on Saturday but they will not be changing too much from what has worked for them in the Cape Town summer.

So says their skills coach Labeeb Levy, who told an online press conference just before the team’s departure for France that the team will be sticking mainly to what worked against La Rochelle, the Vodacom Bulls, the Hollywoodbets Sharks and Sale Sharks in successive matches across two competitions in the Cape Town summer for the northern winter game in Paris.

That though does not mean there won’t be changes, and he says there will be a few tweaks.

"There will be a tweak here and there, because of the conditions," said Levy.

“We will tweak the game plan a bit, but we don’t want to change too much. in terms of how we want to play. It will be like this past weekend, where the players found themselves in certain situations and saw opportunities. They made those calls on the field. The one massive positive of the team is that they find solutions on the field.

“We want to go for the win first and foremost, because our aim is to get home-ground advantage in the playoffs. It’s all in our hands and that is our focus. If we want to be a champion team we have to adapt and win away from home.”

The Stormers appear to have adapted their game anyway in recent times, with a greater element of contestable kicking featuring in their win over the Bulls in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship in particular. Bulls coach Jake White admitted afterwards he did not expect the Stormers to kick onto his much feared Springbok back three as much as they did.

There were elements of the Stormers’ emphasis on counter-attack and transition in the games they have played at home over the past month, but they’ve also shown the ability to grind it out and win ugly when that is necessary. Although they lost, their performance with the second string team against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road at the start of the Investec Champions Cup also gave flesh to head coach John Dobson’s contention that his team has learned their northern hemisphere lessons.

They will need to have, because as Levy pointed out, there is no room for error for a team that last got something out of an overseas game when they drew with Leinster in Dublin in inclement conditions last March.

“Technically, we can still be eliminated if we don’t get any league points and other teams accumulate points. We have to play good rugby because we are coming up against a team with international players and the crowd on their side,” said the Stormers skills coach.

Apart from the predictably partisan and raucous French crowd, the Stormers are expecting to encounter -2 degree cold on Saturday. But with the Stormers having grown their mental toughness in recent times with a number of close games, and with future European endeavours in mind, Levy can see a positive spinoff to the adversity the team may face.

“We want the crowd not to be kind to us because it can cultivate psychological toughness. It can help us now and in the future. Last year when we played in Clermont in our opening Champions Cup game it was our first experience of French conditions and their crowds. It was minus-4 on that occasion. This time we at least have that experience behind us and we can learn from it.

“In terms of the conditions, it is about being mentally tough. If it snows, you play in the snow. If it is ice cold, you play in the cold. If it rains, you play in the rain,” he added.

There might have been some horses for courses options available to the Stormers given the way that Dobson has grown the squad’s depth, but it appears that the Cape team will be sticking largely to the combinations that served them in the two Champions Cup games and the two URC derbies over the festive season.

Suleiman Hartzenberg is likely to continue his growth at outside centre even though there are other options and it does appear at this stage of his career might be wing. But Ben Loader is back in the selection mix after missing the last three games due to the shoulder injury he sustained against La Rochelle and should come in on the wing for Courtnall Skosan, who struggled a bit against Sale.

The Stormers go into a period of relative inactivity after this, with their next competition game being the return URC coastal derby against the Sharks in Durban on 17 February, so they can afford to throw the kitchen sink at the Paris game. The Springboks also go into their mandatory eight week rest period - five week rest and three week preparation for their return - from next week.