Currie Cup

Elstadt owes WP big finish

2014-09-30 14:31
Rynhardt Elstadt (Gallo)

Cape Town – Western Province and Stormers coach Allister Coetzee must be sick to death of dreaming of ideal lock combinations ... but then so seldom being able to actually field them.

For each of the last two Super Rugby seasons, for instance, he has been deprived of his top-line young second-rower Eben Etzebeth, already acknowledged as one of the best in his No 4 berth in the world, for massive chunks of the campaign.

It happened in 2013, when the brawny Springbok landed awkwardly on an ankle in a pre-season friendly against Boland at Cape Town Stadium, ruling him out for rather longer than the first anticipated six to eight weeks, whilst again this year Etzebeth was sidelined – this time for Super Rugby’s entirety – after foot surgery.

He frustratingly picked up that mishap in his very last scheduled rugby match of 2013, when the Boks beat France in Paris but at a significant personal cost to the player.

With a bit of luck, the Stormers will finally get plenty of activity out of their key asset in the 2015 season: indeed, some supporters and observers of the franchise had already begun to get excited recently about the prospect of two muscular but athletic and tall-timber specimens – Etzebeth and Ruan Botha – possibly teaming up as first choices for the competition.

But things are never straightforward in the second-row department at Newlands, as 2012 IRB Junior World Championship-winning Botha – he was Paul Willemse’s partner in the final against New Zealand at the venue – has just succumbed to a season-ending ankle injury.

It is a significant blow to the current log-leaders’ quest to regain the Currie Cup which they last won in 2012 – it is just possible the 22-year-old, 2.06m Botha may not even be 100 percent ready to get stuck into Super Rugby 2015 immediately alongside a presumably fit and firing Etzebeth.

Another fast-emerging rookie, Jean Kleyn, also now being ruled out for three to four weeks leaves Province particularly thin at lock (and “grunt” in the tight five generally) for the critical run-in phase to the October 25 showpiece if they can go all the way.

But it is here that someone like utility forward Rynhardt Elstadt – still only 24 although he seems to have been in the Newlands set-up for ages – can play a priceless role in stepping up in a major way.

The hard man born in Johannesburg but who grew up in Montagu seems an inviting fit for the No 4 jersey, particularly, over the next few weeks even if coach Coetzee may also view him as good blindside flank material again and then reintroduce the yeoman Michael Rhodes to lock from the side of the scrum.

Elstadt is one of several WP/Stormers players to have spent rather more time than the brains trust would like over the last couple of years on the treatment table or in agonisingly slow, associated rehab from injuries.

The 115kg package’s direct, rugged brand of rugby is probably directly linked to the setbacks he experiences on that front, but he has also fallen foul a few times of not being able to put his hands to the pump through disciplinary-related suspension.

He is only just eligible again for selection, for example, after a three-week ban for a reckless clean-out against the EP Kings.

That said, his return is suddenly very timely, given the dual Kleyn-Botha blow, and perhaps the answer to the lock void is to pair up Elstadt with -- at No 5 -- seasoned Argentinean journeyman and lineout caller Manuel Carizza.

The 44-cap Pumas representative – though presently out of favour with the labouring Castle Rugby Championship side – has been in and out of the Province and Stormers team in his workmanlike but thus far unspectacular maiden year in Cape Town, and also needs to come to the party at an important time.

But you just fancy that Elstadt seems particularly ripe for lighting a fresh fire in a WP pack that continues to lack a bit of set-piece and broad “mongrel” aura and is arguably the likeliest reason why the blue-and-white-hoops might fall just short of the silverware again unless they shape up on the final straight.

Remember that not too many seasons ago, when that freak of nature Andries Bekker was still in the mix, Elstadt formed a highly-rated second-row combo with him in a particularly competitive Stormers side at the time.

He needs to re-enter the fray bristling with constructive aggression and energy, and anxious to make up some lost own ground for the cause ...

*WP name their team to face the Cheetahs away this Saturday (14:00, live on SuperSport) on Thursday.

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    wp  |  currie cup  |  rynhardt elstadt  |  rugby

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