Baptism of fire awaits Burton
Baptism of fire awaits Burton

Rookie Western Force centre Luke Burton can expect plenty of heavy traffic coming his way in his Super Rugby debut tonight against the Stormers in Cape Town.

The South Africans will target the inexperienced 20-year-old but coach Michael Foley is confident Burton will handle the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Newlands.

Burton was rushed into the tour squad as the Force injury toll rose but was not expected to start until two more backs, Kyle Godwin and Dane Haylett-Petty, fell by the wayside this week.

"We have confidence in Luke," Foley said. "We are not expecting him to go out there and do anything more than what he has done in any other games.

"He's just got to go out there and play to his strengths. He's got a wonderful defensive game.

"He chops legs, he's very, very evasive and good at poking his nose through the line and getting momentum with the ball in hand.

"He is tough and quite prepared to play through the gain line."

Burton is the Australian under-20 first choice fly-half, which gives Foley more options at first receiver. He is also right-footed to playmaker Sias Ebershon's left boot, which adds versatility.

Burton will pair up with former rugby league player Chris Tuatara-Morrison in his first start but Foley is comfortable with the selection.

"They trained a lot with Sias in pre-season and played together in the 'A' program," Foley said.

"That gave them a little bit more combination than other options that we had and was the deciding factor."

One of the key battles will be the clash of the best pilferers in Super Rugby in Force captain Matt Hodgson and Stormers hooker Deon Fourie. Hodgson leads the table with 15 turnovers but Fourie is just two behind.

Fourie has been moved to hooker from his usual openside flanker role but the swap is unlikely to stop his relentless pressure at the breakdown.

It will give the Stormers an extra presence in the crucial area but what they gain in the loose they may lose in the line-out as throwing in is not one of Fourie's strengths.

Foley has worked on the line-out this week and will pressure the Stormers' set piece which has the lowest completion rate in the competition.

"We've got to be mindful of their strengths and weaknesses and if we can exploit them that would be great," Foley said.

"But just going out there and assuming that how they've performed in the line-outs in previous games is how they'll perform this weekend would be naïve. Against South African sides, the line-out battle is probably a No.1 priority.

"The Stormers are also trying to evolve with ball in hand, which is dangerous. The toughness they have in defence probably separates them from a lot of other teams. It is extremely important that we start well."

Peter Grant, once a Force recruiting target because of family living in Perth, will start at fly-half for the Stormers in his 100th match.

The West Australian

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