Ha­bana, Fourie add new force to the Storm­ers

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

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.

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