Home Sport Rugby It’s the midfield that matters

It’s the midfield that matters

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And while there is no shortage of match-ups to compare in this fixture, the midfield pairings are particularly interesting.

MASSIVE TASK: Damian de Allende of the Stormers and his midfield mates will have their work cut out for them against the dangerous Crusaders midfield. Picture: Ryan Whlkisky | BackpagePix

Earlier this week, Stormers assistant coach Norman Laker said the Crusaders play with more confidence when Richie Mo’unga and Ryan Crotty are in the team.

The duo were rested for the match against the Sharks – which ended in a 21-all draw in Christchurch – while Mitch Hunt and Jack Goodhue were chosen to start.

They were back for the match against the Bulls and have been named in Scott Robertson’s powerhouse side for their clash against the Stormers at Newlands tomorrow as well (kick-off 5.15pm), while the hosts have welcomed back the Springbok trio of Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende.

Kolisi and Du Toit sat out the Stormers’ game against the Jaguares, while De Allende was on the bench.

De Allende comes in as one of three changes to the backline in the place of Dan Kriel, who has been named on the bench. Wing Seabelo Senatla takes over from the injured Sergeal Petersen, while Josh Stander replaces Jean-Luc du Plessis at flyhalf.

In the forward pack, Kolisi and Du Toit will start at openside and blindside flank respectively, with Jaco Coetzee at the back of the scrum, while Cobus Wiese starts in the second row next to Eben Etzebeth.

The only front row change comes on the bench, with Frans Malherbe set to provide cover in the second half.

While Laker was discussing the impact of Crotty, he said: “Crotty and Mo’unga make a big difference. They were absent against the Sharks and you could see the difference when they returned against the Bulls. Everyone plays with more confidence when those two are in the team.”

He’s obviously right.

And while there is no shortage of match-ups to compare in this fixture, the midfield pairings are particularly interesting. While the Crusaders’ centre selections have been mostly consistent, the Stormers have fielded four different centre pairings in 2019.

Until now, De Allende has taken the field with JJ Engelbrecht, Ruhan Nel and Dan du Plessis, while Engelbrecht has also made the run-on side with Dan Kriel. But tomorrow, what will matter more than the hosts’ changing midfield wardrobe is what the De Allende-Engelbrecht duo will do against Crotty and Goodhue.

Crotty’s communication, understanding of the game, combined with his ability to marshall players around him make him the vital cog he is in this Crusaders backline.

His passing game, kicking skills and defence of course add to that, but one of the most dangerous aspects here is how he can create space for Goodhue and co and assess play – something that can prove dangerous to a Stormers outfit who have created no shortage of opportunities, but have struggled with finishing and have often been halted by their own attacking shape.

Then there’s of course also the gelling aspect of the Crotty-Goodhue combination.

One of the Stormers’ most dangerous weapons is their outside backs, and bringing them into the game – along with directing their defensive alignment – will be key tomorrow for De Allende and Engelbrecht.

What rests on the Stormers’ centres shoulders tomorrow is not only keeping their Crusaders counterparts in check, but also creating opportunities and, more importantly, acing their roles and helping their team finish those chances as well.

Will they pass the test? We’ll have to wait and see. But the test itself should be a good one.

Stormers (15-1): Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, JJ Engelbrecht, Damian de Allende, Dillyn Leyds, Josh Stander, Herschel Jantjies, Jaco Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (c), Cobus Wiese, Eben Etzebeth, Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff. Bench: Scarra Ntubeni, Corné Fourie, Frans Malherbe, Kobus van Dyk, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Justin Phillips, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Dan Kriel.

Crusaders (15-1): David Havili, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Ethan Blackadder, Sam Whitelock (c), Scott Barrett, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, George Bower. Bench: Andrew Makalio, Harry Allan, Oliver Jager, Luke Romano, Jordan Taufua, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Braydon Ennor