Habana, Fourie add new force to the Stormers
THE “is there life after...” question should add some intrigue to today’s Super 14 warm-up match between the Stormers and the Wester n Force at Newlands.
It is not just the first match in the Neo Africa Tri-Series which also features the Sharks, it is also the first time in a long while that the Stormers will be beginning the build-up to a new season without Jean de Villiers and the Western Force without Matt Giteau.
De Villiers is playing for Munster, Giteau has returned to the Brumbies, and their influence will be missed by their respective teams.
Perhaps more so the Force, who unlike the Stor mers, haven’t off-set the loss of Giteau with the acquisition of two of the finest players in their position in the world.
Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie make their debuts for the Stormers today.
The excitement of having the best left wing and the best outside centre on the planet in the same team does serve to obscure the loss of a player in De Villiers, who must be pretty close to being the best inside centre in this solar system.
Stor mers coach Allister Coetzee knows what he will get from both Habana and Fourie, for he coached them when he was assistant to Jake White in the four years building up to the last World Cup.
His Force counterpart John Mitchell should be less certain about Giteau’s replacement Andre Pretorius, who has never lacked ability but has been frequently sidelined by injury and has a reputation for sometimes following his own script rather than the one written by his coaches.
On his day, Pretorius can be as much a match-winner as Giteau undeniably is, as we saw when he sparked the performance that broke a long Springbok drought against England at Twickenham in 2006.
But then there are occasions, such as when he wore the Bok flyhalf jersey against Tonga in Lens at the last World Cup, where he goes walkabout.
Which Pretorius will Mitchell have playing for him this season?
As the Kiwi is one of the finest rugby coaches who hails from a land surface where there is oxygen to breathe, and runs a far more professional operation than what Pretorius is used to, my money says Mitchell might just bring the best out of the mercurial former Lion.
But until he has
put together a string of consistent performances for his new franchise, the question will remain unanswered, for injury problems have prevented Pretorius from having an extended run for any team since the 2007 World Cup.
With Habana and Fourie we don’t need to ask any questions, but instead what we might be interested in is how quickly they will fit into the Stormers’ pattern, and what kind of galvanising effect their presence might have on the rest of the Cape team.
Not that we should expect too much from either them or the Stormers collective today, for as players and coaches have taken pains to point out, this warm-up tournament is not about winning, but forwarding the process.
It is still the off-season, after all. The real action starts on February 13 when the Stormers go to Johannesburg to play the Lions, and the next 160 minutes of rugby – they play the Sharks at Newlands next Friday – are all about getting the systems in place, testing new combinations, getting players battle hardened and match fit.
The pre-season tournament concept is new to South Africa but has been the January staple in New Zealand and Australia since 1996, and many has been the occasion that teams showing form at this juncture have ended up bombing out in March.
But the quality players on both sides, and the question about how easy it will be to replace past stalwarts, does add healthy interest to today’s glorified match practice and is worth the money asked at the turnstiles.