Aplon may still face Crusaders
Johannesburg - Wing Gio Aplon and loose-forward Nick Koster are the only two players on the doubtful list for the Stormers’ second Super Rugby tour match against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
Aplon sustained a hip pointer injury shortly after half-time during the Stormers’ excellent opening tour victory against the Highlanders in Dunedin at the weekend.
Coach Allister Coetzee said after the 21-6 win that the Springbok’s condition would be assessed during the week, but Aplon has let it be known via Twitter that he is recovering fast and is no longer feeling the pain that he was.
Should he miss out, however, the Stormers do have a ready replacement in the shape of former Bulls star Gerhard van den Heever, who has impressed during the time that he has been working with the Cape franchise.
Presumably JP du Plessis, the exciting young centre who returned to the Cape from Melbourne during the off-season, would then slot into Van den Heever’s place on the bench.
Koster’s readiness to play could have an impact on Coetzee’s thinking when it comes to the selection of the pack. Rynhardt Elstadt did well on the flank in his second successive outing there against the Highlanders, but there is talk of Andries Bekker perhaps getting a rest this week by playing off the bench.
If Koster is ready to take up the No8 position, Duane Vermeulen could move back to the flank and Elstadt in to partner Eben Etzebeth in the second row.
Deon Fourie also played well when he came on in the second half and might be in line for a start. Coetzee has said that he wants his freshest 22 to be up for the Crusaders match.
However, changes would be a big call for Coetzee to make after the last two wins over the Bulls and the Highlanders, particularly as this match assumes extra significance for his team.
After losing twice to Crusaders last year, once in league play and again in the semi-final, both matches at Newlands, the Stormers will want to win this one and the next game against the Reds (who also beat them at Newlands last year) to erase any thoughts of there being a psychological barrier for them to overcome after 2011.
It has been a long time since a South African team last won in Christchurch so a victory to the Stormers would be another massive step forward psychologically.
And of course there is also the not insignificant consideration of the big blow that such a result would deliver to a Crusaders team that is starting to lose too often for comfort in the early part of this Super Rugby season.