Vodacom Super Rugby
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Bekker 'could play at flank'
Cape Town – Might a lack of depth at loose forward come to scupper the Stormers’ chances of advancing to a maiden Super Rugby title in 2011?
Not if Allister Coetzee, inventive coach of the South African conference and overall log-leaders, can help it.
It is a department where, even in pre-season, last year’s Super 14 runners-up arguably looked shorter on genuinely big names than, say, fiercest domestic rivals the Bulls and Sharks.
And now the loss through a knee injury for the remainder of the campaign of seasoned pro Pieter Louw - for some time the main back-up to loose trio front-liners Schalk Burger, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen - appears to notably aggravate the situation.
It means that Nick Koster, the now 22-year-old schoolboy sensation of some four years ago, has basically been elevated to the role of next in line to the regular three, and the Stormers may be in a spot of trouble if any of the other key loose forwards joins Louw in the long-term “sick bay” over the next few weeks.
Koster is the sole “loosie” on the bench for the Stormers as they prepare to take on the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
A look at the latest Western Province team-sheet in the Vodacom Cup indicates no Super Rugby experience at all (or even a Currie Cup start) among the loose forwards, however talented they may be deemed to be: Wimpie van der Walt, Siya Kolisi and Tertius Daniller.
Compare that to the situation at the Sharks, where a soon-fully-fit Jean Deysel will scrap with all of Keegan Daniel, Jacques Botes, Willem Alberts and Ryan Kankowski for three starting berths - all brimful of solid, first-class experience and mostly Springboks into the bargain.
But Coetzee is not pressing any panic buttons: nor, indeed, will the Stormers repeat what they quickly did when first-choice hooker Tiaan Lienbenberg cried off for several weeks, leaving only Deon Fourie as a proven No 2 - explore the marketplace for another specialist in the position. (They ended up netting former Lions stalwart Ethienne Reynecke on loan from Saracens.)
“For the moment I should make the point that I am very comfortable having someone like Nick available as first back-up,” the coach told Sport24.
“Of course he is mostly a No 8 but he can also cover seven, and we have enough options within the squad not to have to go outside, I believe.
“Happily Nick is now injury-free, and what’s been impressing me the most has been the momentum-stopping tackles he’s made.
“Siya is part of our bigger squad set-up and Wimpie has been playing well at Vodacom Cup level.”
But Coetzee, interestingly, is also prepared to explore more creative options if necessary ... and just one might involve lock stalwart Andries Bekker operating on the side of the scrum.
“You might have a situation where Anton van Zyl can come in at No 5, and Dries (Bekker) become a really tall, yet also mobile option for you as blindside flank.
“Imagine the lineout options you’d have in that instance. I haven’t really spoken to him yet about the possibility of (temporary use at) flank, but we did explore it last season and he ran there in a couple of training sessions which really impressed me.
“Also, Deon Fourie has covered No 6 for us plenty of times in the past and you could employ him there if you had to, bringing Ethienne in as starting hooker in his place.”
Coetzee agreed that Rynhardt Elstadt, who has been making promising strides since his conversion to lock, could also offer brawny possibilities in a return to a No 7 flank role.
The Stormers mastermind may just have to put some of his experimental thoughts to a real-life test as the gruelling Super Rugby season grinds on; he is only too aware that last season first-choicers like Vermeulen and “Flo” Louw made umpteen starts at both Super 14 and Currie Cup level.
And the workload started to take a bit of a toll ...