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Friday, 29 March 2024 21:29

50-up for Dayimani as Stormers change up for Ulster clash.

By Gavin Rich.

If you ever needed convincing that DHL Stormers head coach John Dobson is spoilt for choice, then the team selected for Saturday's crucial Vodacom United Rugby Championship showdown with Ulster might do the trick.

It is a strong team that the Stormers director of rugby - the announcement of that switch of designation was made during the week - has assembled for the Cape Town clash. And yet, if you look at the names that aren’t in the starting team and you momentarily forget that these days rugby is about 23 against 23 instead of 15 against 15, you can’t help but feel sorry for the players missing out.

For instance, everyone was raving about Wandesile Simelane last week, and Damian Willemse won the official man of the match award with his performance at fullback in the 43-21 win over Edinburgh. But for this game Dobson has moved Willemse back to inside centre to accommodate the return of Warrick Gelant, which was the right thing to do given that Gelant was in outstanding form before he was rested last week.

Du Plessis is also a stalwart and while Dobson admitted he may have made a mistake by not playing Simelane ahead of him in the No 13 jersey in the recent derby against the Vodacom Bulls, he has obviously decided to plump for Du Plessis' defensive organisation skills against Ulster. And of course it is also true that Simelane has played two games in a row in the midfield.

There’s more - Ben-Jason Dixon would have been close to my man of the match against Edinburgh starting in the No 7 jersey but this week he returns to the bench to accommodate Hacjivah Dayimani's return at blindside flank. Again, you find yourself raising an eyebrow to the sky in bewilderment when you see Dixon isn't starting - until that is you see who is replacing him.

Dayimani played only a bench role last week but merits a return to the starting team for what will be his landmark 50th cap for the Stormers. Deon Fourie is still injured so the experienced and abrasive Willie Engelbrecht gets his chance at No 6 in place of Nama Xaba.

Marcel Theunissen, who like Engelbrecht played no part in the Edinburgh game, is back on the bench as a reminder that loose-forwards grow as prolifically in the Cape as grapes on a Stellenbosch vineyard.

First choice Springbok tighthead Frans Malherbe is another good player not in the starting team this week, but that was always going to happen given the form Neethling Fouche has been in. The pair are interchangeable. Given his scrumming prowess, and the problems attendant with the injury crisis the Stormers have been hit by at loosehead, it is good to see Joseph Dweba back in the starting front row, while the return to the bench of JJ Kotze is a reminder of the deep well of hookers that Dobson has to call on.

So let's go to that loosehead problem - with so many players out, Dobson has little choice but to continue with veteran Brok Harris in his new emergency role in the No 1 jersey, but Leon Lyons, wo was on loan to the Griquas, has been recalled to back him up from the bench. That is arguably the only area of potential vulnerability for the Stormers right now.

Suleiman Hartzenberg is rewarded for his hattrick of tries last week by continuing on the wing ahead of Ben Loader, who covers the outside back positions from the bench (of course Willemse’s utility value helps in that area).

In all, if you count the positional switches for Willemse and Du Plessis, there are seven changes to the Stormers team that won so well last week - and yet it is still a good team, even arguably stronger than the one that played against Edinburgh. It will be interesting to see what Dobson comes up with for the round of 16 Investec Champions Cup clash with the French behemoths LaRochelle, who will arrive in Cape Town desperate to keep their hopes of extending their two year reign as European champions to three.

DHL Stormers team: Warrick Gelant, Suleiman Hartzenberg, Dan du Plessis, Damian Willemse, Leolin Zas, Manie Libbok, Paul de Wet, Evan Roos, Hacjivah Dayimani, Willie Engelbrecht, Ruben van Heerden, Salmaan Moerat (captain), Neethling Fouche, Joseph Dweba, Brok Harris. Replacements: JJ Kotze, Leon Lyons, Frans Malherbe, Adre Smith, Ben-Jason Dixon, Marcel Theunissen, Herschel Jantjies, Ben Loader.