CAPE TOWN – Stormers fans may finally get their wish granted: a switch at flyhalf.
Coach Robbie Fleck has entrusted the critical No 10 jumper to Jean-Luc du Plessis so far this season – bar one out of the eight Super Rugby matches when Damian Willemse was handed a run – but is yet to be repaid with a convincing performance from Du Plessis.
Every week social media erupts after a Du Plessis mistake with the pivot being heavily criticised. It is not without merit either as the son of former legendary Western Province wing Carel du Plessis has yet to find his rhythm after an almost two-year spell on the sidelines through injury.
He has lacked sound game-management skills with his left boot often over-cooking clearance kicks straight into touch, while his passing has been erratic too.
Although the Stormers backline delivered a much-improved performance last Friday against the Rebels it was not due to Du Plessis’ distribution, but rather wing Dillyn Leyds stepping up into the flyhalf channel on attack.
There has been strong support for Willemse to shift from fullback to flyhalf in the hope that the Paul Roos product can ignite the Stormers’ backline. That is unlikely to happen in the near future though, with Willemse settling into the last line of defence quite comfortably now that he has been playing regularly in one position.
Instead it seems that Josh Stander could run out at first-five against the Brumbies at Newlands on Saturday. Stander replaced Du Plessis at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium after the latter had just thrown a wayward pass that was intercepted by Rebels fullback Reece Hodge.
It was a critical period in the game with the hosts levelling the score at 10-10, but the substitution had the desired effect with Stander producing a polished performance – just like he did throughout last season’s Currie Cup for Western Province. The Stormers would also lose nothing in their goalkicking department either with Stander possessing a solid right boot.
“We have been reluctant to make any sort of unnecessary changes in the backline,” Fleck said yesterday. “But he (Stander) has been pretty effective off the bench when he has come on, whether it has been at 10 or 12, he has played pretty well.
“We feel that one aspect of our game in the beginning that was lacking was probably our attack. But I think we have found a bit (of) confidence on this tour amongst the backs. It is in our minds to give him an opportunity soon.
We feel that he is playing with a lot of confidence and he played like that in the Currie Cup. You need to reward that at some stage.”
The forwards win a scrum penalty on halfway and Josh Stander bounces it on the bar and over for another three points. That takes the DHL Stormers lead out to 34-10 with 20 mins left in Melbourne. #REBvSTO #iamastormer #crossbarchallenge
— DHL STORMERS (@THESTORMERS) April 12, 2019
Speaking about the “need to reward”, Fleck and his coaching staff will also need to have weighty discussions about the make-up of the forward unit this week. Youngsters like Ernst van Rhyn, Salmaan Moerat, Kobus van Dyk and Cobus Wiese were superb against the Rebels but face stiff opposition to hold on to their places with the likes of Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit all available for selection again.
“You want to keep the momentum and confidence within the group, so with a win like that you don’t want to change too much. You also want to reward the guys who produced in that final game,” Fleck said.
“We are going to have think about it carefully.”