The weather forecast for Saturday’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship final in Cape Town is suddenly a lot more positive than it was but even if it reverts to what it was a day ago the DHL Stormers are preparing to produce a top performance regardless of the conditions.
During this past weekend the forecast for Saturday evening, with the showdown between the Cape team and Munster set for a 6.30pm kick-off, fluttered between a 60 per cent and 70 per cent chance of rain and it was also going to be a cold day. A maximum of just 14 degrees was predicted. In other words, conditions that the Irish provincial team would be more used to playing in.
However, through Monday the outlook changed, with the probability of rain shrinking to 30 per cent, and by Tuesday morning it looks very positive for both the Stormers and the nearly 60 000 spectators who will shoe-horn their way into a DHL Stadium that will host what is expected to be a bumper final.
The predictions for the day are partly cloudy with a maximum temperature of 17 degrees. That’s not exactly a summer's day and it doesn’t give the Stormers the advantage they might have if the game was to be played in January, but it should give them a chance to give expression to their attacking game and bring their potent transitioning into play.
It is winter though in the Cape, which means rainy season, and Stormers assistant coach Rito Hlungwani knows anything can happen so he is pleased that after two seasons playing in the URC, and visiting the northern hemisphere in autumn and winter and playing in sometimes inclement conditions, Steven Kitshoff’s men are ready for any eventuality.
“If it does rain we will be prepared, it is not as if it will be the first time we have played in the rain so we will be ready for it and we are not concerned,” said the forwards coach.
“We will be able to execute our plans and play to our strengths even it is rainy. It if it rainy and windy we will find a way of getting our best foot forward.”
SCRUM IS COMING TO TERMS WITH THE CHALLENGE
With a 100 per cent chance of rain on Thursday, two days before the game, the underfoot conditions could be testing on a field that has been problematic when used for rugby matches and that has been the case pretty much since all three test matches in the Springbok/British and Irish Lions were played there during the dark days of Covid in 2021.
When Hlungwani spoke about his team being able to play to their strengths he was perhaps forgetting the way the field appears to negate the Stormers’ scrumming strength, but there again perhaps not, for Springbok tighthead prop Frans Malherbe reckons he and his teammates have started to adapt.
“There are good patches and bad patches on the field so in some areas the scrumming conditions are like normal and in some areas they aren’t,” said Malherbe.
“We are learning to get the scrums to work on the field and I feel we are starting to get that right. Obviously we can’t choose where the scrums will be set, but we want the scrums to work and not to have too many re-sets. We want to play off the first scrum, so hopefully the field will remain good.”
It is perhaps indicative of what the Stormers players feel about the pitch that scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, who was sitting next to Malherbe and Hlungwani in an online press conference, burst into laughter when Malherbe made the last comment about hoping the field would remain good. But he insisted that he was serious and was hopeful.
The scrums could be a key area for the Stormers as they do have a formidable scrum unit and the set scrums were one area where Munster struggled against Leinster in their semifinal. They were also pretty much annihilated by the Sharks scrum, which is also fronted by a Springbok laden front-row just like the Stormers, in the first half of the last URC league game.
Malherbe though said his team was not taking anything for granted and would not go into the game assuming a Munster weakness in that phase.
“We all know that you can never predict scrumming form before a game, but we have done our analysis and feel we know what they do well and what they don’t do well,” said the Stormers strongman.