Cruising round the sole rugby field out in Riebeek West on Saturday were the likes of Bok coach Peter de Villiers, Bok forward coach Gary Gold, sensational rugby brain Alan Zondagh, Bok selector Pieter Jooste, and ex Bok coach and now consultant supremo (together with brand new wife) Jake White.
Something was up …
A closer inspection revealed that on different ends of the field stood Rassie Erasmus, new coaching sensation and scrum guru, Matthew Proudfoot, Brendon Venter, Bob Skinstad, Rob Fleck, John Dobson, Paul Day, Tobie Titus, Jerome Paarwater, and Tinus Linee.
A Bok training camp? Springbok trials for a pre-season game no one knows about yet?
No, my friends … just a casual and informal warm up game between the Stormers and Varsity Cup sensation, the UCT Ikey Tigers – held at Alan Zondagh’s RPC rugby institute, now at new premises in Riebeek West given the collapse of previous sponsor, Fidentia.
Rugby season is upon us, you see, and people have obviously been starved of their weekly fix – myself very much included. It was just sensational to be out there talking rugby and catching up with salt of the earth rugby people.
It was all kept very hush hush. I knew about it not because of my media connections, but because of my involvement with the Ikeys as a front row coach. But word had certainly leaked out, and a few of the players probably ended up playing in front of the biggest crowd of their short careers. The sun was out, the field was in good nick, the picnic chairs were up, cooler boxes out, and it was just bloody marvellous …
So many stories and so much good came of the day, and those few hours at the RPC academy will no doubt provide much fodder for my Front Row Grunt blog, but in this column I will focus on the state of the Stormers …
Dressed in the seemingly obligatory slip slop, surfer short, trendy t-shirt and pair of big brand sunglasses on the side of the field were Tonderai Chavanga, Bolla Conradie, Willem de Waal, Brian Mujati, Jean de Villiers, Sireli Naqelevuki, Gcobani Bobo, and Conrad Jantjes. De Waal’s hand is still in a cast, but the only other serious injury is Jantjes, who has a groin problem.
They all exercised their hands on the day, though - offering signatures galore, mostly on the kids t-shirts, to a massively appreciative crowd.
Not spotted at all were Schalk Burger, Peter Grant and Schalk Brits. Again, though, word on the street suggests that these guys should be good to go for the Super 14.
Yet even with these massive names donning civvy street gear rather then the warm up jersey in which the rest of their team mates were earning their salaries, the Stormers managed to look more than convincing against a very plucky, but also injury ravaged Ikey side. It was in the all important “collision” that the senior side looked the most impressive. Clearly fitter, but also excellently drilled, the Stormers not only held onto possession while going forward, but also forced a number of turnovers.
Luke Watson might not be “Mr. Popular” in all circles (and that would definitely exclude the crowd gathered on Saturday, who, based on the noise made when players touched the ball and amount of post match autograph hunters, absolutely loved the bearded loose forward), and he made a few basic errors when trying a little too much of the fancy stuff, but he was absolutely brilliant in his moving round the park and making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown. Let’s just hope that the arrival of 8th man, Duane Vermeulen, who looked solid if not spectacular, will cut short Erasmus’ experiment with Watson at the base of the scrum. The man is an out and out fetcher, and he must be rotated with Schalk Burger on the side of the scrum.
Speaking of Erasmus and his “Out the box” positional switches, I sometimes get the impression he tries just a little too hard to keep that “Mr Innovation, disco lights” flag flying. The Watson and Schalk Brits moves to 8th man last year were poor calls, and I am certainly yet to be convinced his move of Nick Koster’s to the right wing. Koster got very little ball on Saturday, but was not massively convincing when he did. The guy is a Bok 8th man in the making, and just because Vermuelen has arrived, Erasmus seems intent on finding a way for both players to make the starting XV. Super14 is all about depth. Rather rotate to two players in their preferred position …
That said, there are a few things that Erasmus is trying this season that I do like the look of. The potential purchase of Tongan giant, Alipate Fatafehi being one of them. This man certainly looks the part having scored a try with his first touch of the ball on Saturday – speedy, massive, athletic. But sadly, also injured. He only spent a few minutes on the field before joining Pacific Island mate Naqelevuki on the side of the field with an ice pack strapped to what looked to be a pretty badly injured ankle.
Regular sufferers of this column will know my thoughts on AJ Venter, and they are not overly positive, but at least the coach now seems to see him as a back up lock and not loose forward. The Stormers are a little thin in second row depth and an injury to either Andries Bekker or Adriaan Fondse would be cause for concern. So having AJ in the mix as back up does make sense. Erasmus is also looking to move Hilton Lobberts into the second row, and he looked the part on the weekend. In the past, a “Walking yellow card” as an overly aggressive, and often unfit loose forward, I thought the men in the Cape had made a seriously bad purchase. But noticeably fitter, and with less pressure to get around the park as a number two lineout jumper, Lobberts might just be the surprise of the Super 14!
The other big move is the one Schalk Ferreira is making – from loosehead prop to hooker. Just a little too small to take on the beasts that are tighthead props, Ferreira was destined to see out his career at club level. But now having cut the extra bulk he was trying desperately to keep on his frame, the man is in pristine condition and seems set for a spectacular career revival in between the man mountains of the rugby world …
This weekend sees the Stormers vs Saracens at Newlands and the Lions vs Bulls at Ellis Park. The blood is beginning to flow again … bring it on …
- Tank is a former WP tighthead prop and now Sport24 editor and the author of the blog, Front Row Grunt.
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