Stormers blessed at No 10

2011-12-08 14:04
Allister Coetzee (Gallo)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer 

Cape Town – The Stormers, semi-finalists and best performing South African franchise in last year’s Super Rugby, have named a 53-strong pre-season training squad marked by a near-embarrassment of riches in the flyhalf spot.

It is an ironic situation considering that last year they had to scrape the barrel or improvise at times in the face of a dreadful spate of injuries in the position – first-choice scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage even did duty with occasional success there when the crisis was at its peak.

The enlarged group was named on Thursday on rugby website with the proviso that it was “not finalised and players may be added at any time”.

But it did give some early pointers as to how the Stormers, SA conference winners in 2011, may look in the key area of positional depth, bearing in mind that Super Rugby will run an unusually long calendar course next year.

Quickly apparent is that No 10 ought not present such snags this time around: the cupboard is brimful of proven first-class competitors in the influential slot.

The globe-trotting Springbok Peter Grant is back in the mix and will arguably be first choice again once freed from Japanese commitments, and additional options will include prolific Currie Cup place-kicker Demetri Catrakilis, fit-again Gary van Aswegen and Kurt Coleman, plus Burton Francis and Joe Pietersen.

The last-named two are Cape products who have spent time elsewhere of late – Francis for the Lions and Bulls and versatile Pietersen in France – but return to their roots for the 2012 season.

Pietersen has often turned out at flyhalf for the Stormers/WP before and was a much-improved goalkicker before his departure for Bayonne, although the Stormers may well employ him more commonly among the back three in the Super Rugby campaign.

Allister Coetzee’s charges are rather less blessed in some other positions, including lock, where further injury setback to pedigreed Andries Bekker – almost certainly Victor Matfield’s intended successor as Springbok lineout kingpin -- would be a blow of note.

They will be able to field up-and-coming No 4 lock Rynhardt Elstadt, who missed the entire Currie Cup after making solid strides as an “enforcer” in Super Rugby, but there is a lack of proven first-class quality in their remaining second-row stock – even if there are high hopes down the line for rookies Quinn Roux and Eben Etzebeth, both of whom feature in the training group.

There are plenty of reasonably decent props in the mix, although the Stormers continue to lack at least one top-notch scrummager or gnarly ball-carrier of current international repute.

They could also be in trouble in midfield if either of Jean de Villiers or Juan de Jongh succumbs to long-term injury, especially as they have controversially dispensed with the services of Jaque Fourie, Johann Sadie and Tim Whitehead.

Grant, of course, could offer solutions at inside centre if required.

The squad named does not include at this stage former Sharks and Bok veteran Adi Jacobs, whose name had been linked with the Cape outfit recently.

Another area where the Stormers could come a cropper, if captain Schalk Burger unexpectedly needs any time out of their plans, is in the fetching role.

The departure of Francois Louw for Bath probably means Burger is going to have play more “to the ball” again, although Namibian World Cup open-sider Rohan Kitshoff remains in contention and there is also Nick Fenton-Wells, who earned maiden Currie Cup exposure last campaign, to consider.

The Stormers coaches and administrators are very eager to bang the drum of how blessed they are with talent in (or just out of) the under-21 ranks, yet more cynical supporters of the trophy-shy franchise might argue with reason that for every step forward in the vicinity of Newlands, there are always one or two backwards as well, as valuable established stars like Louw, Sadie, Fourie and Anton van Zyl seek greener pastures ...


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