Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The No 8 berth has been a cursed one for the Stormers this year, for injury-related and other reasons.
Both Duane Vermeulen and Nizaam Carr have fallen prey to long-term injury while staffing it, flank Siya Kolisi has been tried there, and now Canadian import Jebb Sinclair cannot continue in the role for the crucial playoffs phase of Super Rugby because SANZAR has declared him ineligible for the finals series.
So desperate times call for desperate measures and Deon Fourie, the livewire hooker who can also be very comfortable as an open-side tearaway and pilferer, will be given a new challenge in the spot against the Melbourne Rebels at Newlands on Saturday.
Initial speculation had been that coach Allister Coetzee would stick with Sinclair, who has begun to look more and more assured in his short tenure with the franchise, for this game, but with the playoffs in mind he has instead taken a pro-active route by gauging Fourie’s suitability to the role and having Sinclair available as a bench option in his
Although a chance remains that the rugged Vermeulen may yet be fit again for a likely home semi-final more than two weeks further up the road, Fourie has a chance to impress in a loose trio also comprising Kolisi in his more suitable No 6 shirt and Rynhardt Elstadt at blindside flank.
“With the news of Jebb not qualifying we just felt we needed to look at all other options we possess,” Coetzee explained at media briefing on Wednesday.
“The first thing is to get your best players on the field ... we’ve seen how well Deon Fourie has performed over the last couple of games, and now Tiaan Liebenberg can start again (at hooker) as well, with Deon still out there.
“Obviously we’ve tried Siya at No 8 but both he and Rynhardt have played consistently at six and seven so they have established a bit of a combination - I would like to keep it like that, and then see how Deon adapts at No 8.
“He’s a skilful player, and likes to be out first, so at eight he can be first out of the scrums and the same applies off lineouts. We have to try it now, before the playoffs start and (provided) we get there ... we still have to work for at least a point to get (a bye into a home semi-final).”
Another blessing of Fourie’s versatility is that the Stormers, knowing his specialist capabilities at hooker if required, can afford to field as many as two props on the bench, and have done so with both Brok Harris and Springbok veteran Deon Carstens deployed there on Saturday.
Their scrum has experienced some problems in recent matches so having the luxury of potential fresh legs at both loosehead and tighthead is a comfort.
“Deon also understands the engagement of the scrum, being a hooker,” Coetzee said. “We’ll see how it goes - he has all the attributes to do the job for us. The proof of the pudding is in the eating this weekend.”
Asked by Sport24 whether it was hoped Fourie, not the tallest timber at No 8 considering his mere 1.78m, would take some kind of leaf from the Keegan Daniel book - the in-form Sharks and Bok loose forward has shown his own effectiveness in that capacity despite being fairly short himself - Coetzee said: “One of Deon’s big assets is his quickness and like (Daniel) that is a big plus off the base of a scrum.”
Captain Jean de Villiers quipped: “Allister (a former scrumhalf) will never say anything bad about a short guy.”
And the smiling coach quickly countered, not without foundation, by pointing out that “Deon brings some attitude too”.
Pretoria-born Fourie’s known dynamism and bubbly self-confidence will at least be handy start-up tools as he tries to add a new string to his blossoming bow ...
15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Deon Fourie, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16 Brok Harris, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den HeeverRebels:
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