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Preview: Stormers v Blues | Planet Rugby : Planet Rugby

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The Stormers will be looking to turn around a four-match losing streak when they host the Blues at Newlands on Friday.

After a humbling tour of New Zealand in which they conceded 155 points in three games, the Stormers will be desperate to prove the gulf between them and the Kiwi sides is not so wide after all.

The Stormers have won four out of their last five games against the Blues with a one-point loss in Round 12, 2013 the only blemish on that record. They have also won four of their last five games at home. However, defeat did come in their last home encounter when they went down 29-16 to the Lions. This ended a six-game winning streak as they made a good start to the season.

The Cape side welcome back lock powerhouses Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph Du Toit which will give them more grunt up front. The return of Seabelo Senatla on the wing and centre Damian de Allende on the bench is also a plus for the home side.

Blues coach Tana Umaga has been talking down his team’s chances ahead of Friday’s clash by saying the Stormers are ‘formidable opponents’ and basically giving his side underdog status.

However, the Blues themselves are a formidable side. The men from Auckland average more than 18 minutes in possession on average per game, more than any other team in the competition. Opposition teams beat an averge of just 15.6 defenders per game when facing the Blues, the lowest against any team in the competition.

This shows they are a well-rounded side, equally adept on defence as they are on attack. They have only lost to New Zealand opposition in Super Rugby this season and as we have all seen the Kiwi sides have proven themselves to be in a different class bracket. So despite being bottom of the New Zealand conference, they maintained a 100 percent record against teams outside of their borders with a 50-32  victory over the Cheetahs last weekend.

With Rieko Ioane in dazzling form on the wing, Steven Luatua back to his best at flank and Charlie Faumuina a handful at prop, they also welcome back another star player in the form of Sonny Bill Williams back into the side. SBW just loves playing at Newlands and will be keen to impress the New Zealand selectors ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour.

The last time the teams met: The Blues were reduced to 14 men after just 24 minutes when Hayden Triggs was given his a red card in a Round 2 clash at Newlands in 2015. Nick Groom and Dillyn Leyds scored first-half tries for the Stormers and Demetri Catrakilis had a good day with the boot. The Blues scored a try in the second half through Jimmy Cowan but it was not nearly enough as the Stormers ran out comfortable 27-16 winners.

Players to watch: Bok enforcer Eben Etzebeth is back for the Stormers and will be crucial to his side’s chances. One of the world’s best locks will be relied upon to intimidate the Blues as he is more than capable of doing. He will marshal the lineouts as usual while getting in the face of the opposition on defence and attack.

Blues wing Rieko Ioane has scored four tries in his last two games and has proven himself to be a clinical finisher. He is capable of making a try out of nothing and the Stormers will have to be wary of giving the 20-year-old too much time and space.

Team news: Springbok tight forwards Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit are all in the Stormers starting side to face the Blues. Locks Etzebeth and Du Toit have both recovered from injury niggles whilst tighthead prop Malherbe was rested against the Hurricanes before last week’s bye as part of the Springbok management plan.

As a result Wilco Louw and Jan de Klerk will feature off the replacements bench, with the only other change to the forward pack coming at loosehead prop where Oli Kebble switches with Ali Vermaak to claim the starting spot.

In the backline Dillyn Leyds steps into the fly-half role he performed in Wellingon when Rob du Preez was forced from the field with a torn pectoral muscle and a fit-again Seabelo Senatla takes his place out on the left wing.

Experienced centre Damian de Allende returns from an ankle injury to feature on the replacements bench alongside Brandon Thomson who will provide fly-half cover for the clash with the Auckland side.

Blues head coach Tana Umaga has named All Black centre Sonny Bill Williams in his starting XV. Williams missed last week’s home match against the Cheetahs with concussion, but has been fully cleared to play in South Africa.

Fellow All Black Ofa Tu’ungafasi gets his second start of the season after his strong performance coming on for the injured Pauliasi Manu in the win over the Cheetahs at Eden Park last weekend.

The only other change from the starting line-up that beat the Cheetahs sees Gerard Cowley-Tuioti return to partner fellow in-form lock Scott Scrafton with All Black Patrick Tuipulotu to add real thrust off the bench.

Piers Francis, who came off with injury at half-time last weekend, has recovered sufficiently to be named to start at fly-half, with Bryn Gatland returning to the squad in the reserves.

Melani Nanai, who has bagged five tries this season, retains his spot at full-back with Michael Collins to come off the bench.

Form: The Stormers won their first six games of the season against the Bulls, Jaguares, Kings, Sunwolves, Cheetahs and Chiefs. They followed this up with four defeats to the Lions, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes.

The Blues have beaten the Rebels, Bulls, Force, Brumbies, Waratahs and Cheetahs while losing to the Chiefs, Highlanders (twice), Crusaders and Hurricanes.

Prediction: This should be a close contest but we think the Blues will prevail. Blues by 10.

Previous results:

2015: Stormers won 27-16 in Cape Town
2013: Blues won 18-17 in Auckland
2012: Stormers won 27-17 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 28-26 in Auckland
2010: Stormers won 33-21 in Auckland
2009: Blues won 14-8 in Cape Town
2008: Blues won 17-14 in Auckland
2007: Stormers won 33-20 in Cape Town

The teams:

Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Dillyn Leyds, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Damian de Allende

Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Michael Collins

Date: Friday, May 19
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 19:00 local (17:00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Shaun Veldsman

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