Australia’s Brumbies will not to be sidetracked by history or the widely acclaimed Stormers injuries in the run-up to Saturday’s make-or-break Super 14 clash at Newlands.
The history books will show that the last time the Brumbies lost at Newlands was in 1998, and apart from one draw in 2006, they’ve always defeated the Stormers in the Mother City in a decade of clashes.
And Saturday’s result could decide which of the two teams will pursue the fight for a 2008 Super 14 semifinal berth.
The Brumbies triumvirate of Laurie Fisher (coach), Stirling Mortlock (centre) and George Smith (flank) also played down their good fortune of having to face a Stormers team minus their crocked match winners Schalk Burger, Tonderai Chavhanga, JB Moller and Tiaan Liebenberg.
”History may be interesting for the readers, but we still have to go out there and try to win the match,” Smith told the media in Cape Town on Tuesday.
”Some of our players have never been to Cape Town so they’ll not even be aware of how the Brumbies have fared there in the past,” said Brumbies captain Mortlock, who was hugely critical of his side’s close-shave victory over the Lions last week.
”I called it ugly and probably disgraceful. That’s probably the worst performance I’ve been involved with for a long time — the only pleasing thing is we won.”
Fisher said his team will be aware of Burger’s absence. ”Every bit [injury to the Stormers] helps a bit. We’ve got seven players out with injury this season, said Fisher. ”They’ll [the Stormers] will miss him — he’s key for them,” said Fisher, who will lose his job as the Brumbies head coach at the end of the season.
There is nothing in Fisher’s manner that suggest that soon he’ll be on the streets looking for a new job.
”I can’t worry about that now. I know I won’t have a job at the end of next month, it only complicates my life. That’s not the same for the players, because they still have contracts, and that’s all that matters now,” said Fisher.
The Brumbies coach will also be without his assistant Matt O’Connor who was left out of the South African touring party for the matches against the Stormers and the Bulls.
Much against O’Connor’s wishes he was given an early release from his contract and told to pursue work opportunities for next season. O’Connor had initially applied to be Fisher’s replacement next season and it was adding insult to injury when he was not allowed to see out the season with the 2001 and 2004 Super 12 champions.
In O’Connor’s absence Mortlock, who is one of the highest point scorers in the history of Super rugby, will step into O’Connor’s role on tour and his experience should prove beneficial for the youthful side that has often been labelled the Baby Brumbies this season.
But the Brumbies camp has been impressed by the Stormers’ form of late.
”They’re playing with tremendous form,” said Fisher. ”They’ve got the best line-out in the competition. They’ve also got all the basics of a good game. I don’t know if I’ll get the best out of the Brumbies in the remaining games. We’ve had lots of changes, new faces and a new style of play.
”We’ll just chip away on Saturday. The Stormers scramble well, and we don’t finish well so if we can tidy up parts of our game, we’ll be competitive.”
Much of the spotlight at the breakdowns will fall on the Stormers loosie Luke Watson, although Smith felt that Burger’s absence could prove to be a ”help” for the Brumbies.
And Fisher agreed.
”Luke is having a fantastic season, and the battle on the ground will be strong, as it is in every game,” said Fisher. ”The Stormers’ backrow has been tremendous. We have to make sure that our breakdown is good, and it helps that Schalk’s not there.”
Mortlock said it was going to a special experience for many of the youngsters to play the Stormers in front of 40 000 spectators at Newlands.
”Their [the Stormers] set-pieces are excellent and they generate a lot possession from the scrum and the line-out,” said Mortlock.
”It’s very hard to focus on what they are going to do, and they can up their game so well.
”We’re not happy with the way we played last week but there is huge potential in the team. A number of the young players have put their hands up and their underlying belief has really been tested.”
Apart from the battle in the loose, the contest among the backs should also produce a humdinger as the Stormers’ in-form stars Jean de Villiers, Gcobani Bobo and Sireli Naqelevuki pit their skills against the seasoned Aussie Test players Mortlock, Mark Gerrard and Adam Ashley-Cooper.
You can bet new Springbok coach Peter de Villiers will be watching. – Sapa