Willem de Waal will continue at flyhalf and Joe Pietersen will come in at fullback in the Vodacom Stormers team to play their penultimate Super 14 match of the season against the Western Force in Cape Town on Saturday – but coach Rassie Erasmus has left one big question unanswered.
With incumbent Springbok fullback Conrad Jantjes ruled out with a broken leg and Francois Steyn also unlikely to be recovered from his knee injury in time for the Lions series, and massive question marks over the quality of the Bok goalkicking, there is a feeling among some players and coaches that Percy Montgomery should be offered a chance to make a fairy-tale ending to his playing career.
Montgomery is officially retired from international rugby, a decision he made towards the end of the last Vodacom Tri-Nations season and announced immediately after the big Bok win over Australia at Coca Cola Park, a match where he played well off the bench.
However, the man whose impeccable boot played such a key role in the South Afircan triumph in the last World Cup is still officially a player, and is contracted to the Stormers. He has played Super 14 rugby this season, and lest it be forgotten, he starred in the Stormers win over the Lions at Newlands in March, when he showed signs of having retained at least some of his old pace in dove-tailing with Gcobani Bobo for one of the Stormers’ eight tries.
Montgomery only played one more game after that, the defeat to the Crusaders in the first match of tour. He returned to South Africa two matches before the end, with the Stormers management listing injury as the reason for his early departure. But it is no secret that Montgomery was released on his own request after it became clear that Jantjes was not going to be happy with a move to wing.
It is understood that Montgomery is fit and healthy, and he could be used by the Stormers if they saw fit, which they should have done in the match against the Chiefs last week, where Jantjes’ injury exposed a horrible lack of thought on the bench.
Instead of Montgomery, Tiger Bax, mainly a centre and after just 20 minutes at fullback in the Varsity Cup, came onto the field to play in the last line of defence for 70 minutes of the game. Bax has no kicking boot to speak of, and yet this was a night when the Stormers had banked so much on a kicking game.
Without Jantjes, and with Montgomery absent from the bench, it was hardly surprising that the Stormers’ kicking game was so poor. Now they have recalled the almost forgotten Joe Pietersen to No15 – a decision which we can assume, from Erasmus’ comments after the Chiefs game, is based around a desire to start rebuilding with the youth.
Yet the Stormers also need to win their last two games if they want to regain any pride from a disastrous season and start the Currie Cup in two months time with any kind of momentum. With the retention of De Waal signalling an intent to retain the kicking game, surely the experienced Montgomery was the man for the job this week.
And had he been given a chance to play one last game for the Stormers at Newlands, it could well have shown us whether he is indeed ready to step into an obvious breach in the national team. Bok coach Peter de Villiers met with Montgomery earlier this week to discuss his role as kicking coach – but they should have spoken about more than that.
After all, it was just nine months ago that Montgomery was part of the Bok team that broke a 10 year drought in New Zealand by beating the All Blacks in Dunedin. He showed that day he can still play international rugby, and the strategy the Boks are planning for the Lions series won’t require him to do any counter-attacking.
Possible Stormers team: Joe Pietersen, Gcobani Bobo, Dylan des Fountain, Peter Grant, Sireli Naqelevuki, Willem de Waal, Dewaldt Duvenage, Luke Watson (captain), Duane Vermeulen, Pieter Louw, AJ Venter, Hilton Lobberts, Brok Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg, JD Moller.