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 www.Rugbyweek.com 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
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
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 ...