Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The lower back injury that prevented Andries Bekker from playing beyond the first few minutes of the crunch Vodacom Super Rugby clash with the Crusaders in Christchurch at the weekend will rule him out of the important match against the Reds in Brisbane on Friday.
However, the good news is that there doesn’t appear to be any panic coming from the Stormers management over Bekker’s long-term condition, and maybe what happened at the weekend should be a timely wake-up call to a coach who appears to have forgotten what he said at the start of the season, when he said that Bekker would be managed during the Super Rugby campaign.
There was talk back then of Bekker sitting out a few games as last year he was played into the ground and in the last two seasons has ended up missing the international season after playing almost non-stop through the Super Rugby season. But so far Bekker has started every game, something which can be understood as a reluctance on the part of Allister Coetzee to risk going without the massive impact Bekker’s experience has on the young Eben Etzebeth alongside him.
The highly promising Etzebeth left the field with an AC shoulder complaint not long after Bekker went off against the Crusaders, thus robbing the Stormers of an opportunity to see how Etzebeth would go without Bekker packing down alongside him in the second row.
The Stormers coach may get his chance to do that this week, however, as Coetzee has told the Cape media that Etzebeth could well be cleared to play against the Reds.
“Eben’s injury is not as bad as initially we may have thought. With Andries we are going to have to look at the situation and assess it during the week, but at this stage there is no thought of him going home,” said Coetzee.
However an SOS has been sent to the Western Province Vodacom Cup lock Quinn Roux, who is one of a host of young second row forwards coming through in the Cape. In fact, had it not been for the injury suffered by Roux that prevented him from starting the season, he may well have been a fixture in the Stormers team by now as the under-21 star was considered to be ahead of Etzebeth in the pecking order last year.
But while all the depth available to the Stormers in the position – De Kock Steenkamp did well as Bekker’s replacement and Rynhardt Elstadt, who moved from flank, is a lock – means it is premature to refer to a lock crisis for the Stormers, as Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer apparently did on Sunday, what could be a problem is experience.
And that is why Coetzee will be holding thumbs that Bekker’s condition is not too serious. Etzebeth can certainly take Bekker’s place at No 5 lock, for that is where he played most of his career before this season and the expert Stormers forward coach Matthew Proudfoot is working hard on getting him to be able to play both.
But with Schalk Burger out until the middle of May that has kept him from playing any role for the Stormers since his injury in the first game against the Hurricanes, Bekker’s leadership will be missed at a critical juncture of the season. Although the fact the Bulls have drawn level in the conference battle in terms of log points should not be seen as too much of a concern for now as the Bulls still have to travel and all the games they have won have been at altitude, the Stormers do need to get back on the bike against the Reds as a first defeat after a long sequence of wins can have a psychological impact.
The Reds have been ravaged by injury this year and didn't tour well but they are a different proposition in Brisbane, and like the Crusaders, who won 31-24 in Christchurch at the weekend, they beat the Stormers at Newlands last year.
Fortunately for the Stormers the injuries to their locks are their only major availability concerns that the moment, and both Gio Aplon (hip) and Nick Koster (head) are over the injuries that kept them from facing the Crusaders.