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Stormers ready for physical onslaught as Bok powerhouse returns

NEWS: The battle lines have more or less been drawn in the sand for the big North-South derby at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday with the news that one of the best tighthead props in the world will be back in action for the Stormers.

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Stormers forwards coach Rito Hlungwani confirmed on Tuesday that Frans Malherbe will be one of the returning Springboks for the big encounter in Pretoria and all but confirmed that he will take part in this match.

He will be considered for selection alongside the other Springboks who are back from their resting protocols – Deon Fourie, Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse.

The Bulls also have an ace up their sleeve in Wilco Louw, the incumbent No. 3 who has his eyes set on a possible recall to the Springbok set-up.

Since returning to South Africa, Louw has strengthened the Bulls’ scrum and he is making a strong case for the Springbok fold.

“The level of competition in our team is quite pleasing. It’s really nice to have Frans back, probably one of the best tightheads in the world. So, that will definitely improve our environment and it will push Neethling [Fouche] to do even more,” Hlungwani said.

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“Whether he starts or whether he is on the bench, he will have a role to play, and so will Neethling. Having Frans back is a big boost and it sort of lifted the players at training.”

Stormers hooker André-Hugo Venter agreed that the physical battle at Loftus will be huge and could be the difference between winning and losing.

“The Bulls play an incredible brand of rugby, so for us, it will be important to pitch up physically, especially for the front row, but for the whole pack as well.

“The Bulls have a very good track record in the URC thus far and at the end of the day we will have to man up physically,” Venter said.

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“In any game, you want to win the physical battle. I think that is how South African teams play.

“To be honest, they are going to try and do the same thing to us. So the focus is going to be on pitching up on Saturday and at the end of the day, giving our best.

“We are a team that won’t die after 20 minutes, so we will keep on fighting.

“The brand of rugby that is going to be played will be incredible [with all the returning Springboks in both sides] And for me to be able to play with those guys and play against them, it’s an honour and a privilege that I really enjoy.”

Venter touched on the role his father, former Springbok André, plays in his life in helping to guide him in his rugby career.

“To be honest, it’s mostly thanks to the team and the coaches for giving me the chance to play – and then there is pressure on me to play well and so on.”

“With regards to my dad, he hasn’t put any pressure on me, actually. All the pressure from his side is more on the academic side.

“So, just really privileged to have been spotted by the coaching staff a few years ago at Maties, and being able to get the chance to play and represent the union.

“It makes me proud to represent a special union, and you can see that most of the guys don’t really want to leave this place.

“To be honest, I think I am in the right space, and there is not a lot of pressure on me, bearing the Venter name. It’s really humbling but you are only as good as your last game,” he said referring to his invitation to attend the Springbok alignment camp next week.

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