Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The likelihood that Andries Bekker will be fit to represent the Stormers, as well as pick up the seemingly poisoned chalice of leadership, goes a long way to settling their supporters’ nerves ahead of the Super Rugby encounter with the Force in Perth on Saturday.
They need as much “seniority” as they can get right now, what with various experienced customers suddenly dropping out of the mix through injury.
With Duane Vermeulen just the latest casualty, the Stormers have lost a strong component of their lineout game, among other things, making Bekker’s anticipated return to action after missing the Reds fixture last week imperative.
It was an area of play, in an otherwise professional display, where the touring side fell unusually short in Brisbane despite winning 23-13 for a second triumph in three games abroad.
But if Bekker does, indeed, make the cut for this one (11:40 at nib Stadium, SA time) the 2.08m beanpole could make all the difference to restoration of more normal service at the lineout.
He will also, almost certainly, be involved in a poignant last Super Rugby battle with veteran Force second-rower Nathan Sharpe, who is scheduled to retire from all rugby at the end of this season.
The 34-year-old no longer has the captaincy at the Western Australian franchise, with David Pocock now holding that responsibility in the interests of longer-term needs, but he is still the fulcrum of the Force pack in many ways.
Sharpe is the most-capped Wallaby lock forward of all time, with a three-figure tally of appearances, and boasts almost 15 years of first-class rugby.
Understandably, there has always been great mutual respect between Sharpe and Victor Matfield, the Springbok and Bulls legend who is possibly the best lineout jumper ever witnessed.
In his recent book “Victor: My Journey”, Matfield makes reference to the Force favourite on a couple of occasions.
He mentions that it an honour to encounter Sharpe in his 100th Test at Loftus in 2010.
“That evening, a function was held for the players and their families. I was given the chance to say a few words and I thanked everyone who was involved in my career.
“I also singled out Nathan Sharpe, as he and I had competed since our days as under-21 players, and it was fitting to have him as an opponent in my 100th Test.”
If Bekker is to keep developing as the heir apparent to Matfield in South African rugby, a rousing game against Sharpe would do his credentials no harm at all ... *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing