Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Gerhard van den Heever has operated a little below the radar for the Stormers since his switch last summer from Loftus.
Opportunities for the baby-faced former Bulls flyer have been mostly restricted to varying bursts off the bench this season, with the log-topping franchise regularly favouring a back three of Bryan Habana, Gio Aplon and Joe Pietersen.
Van den Heever has never looked especially influential, nor glaringly inept whenever given game-time, doing his “basics” solidly and being part of a game-plan that does not consistently facilitate sparkling wing play.
But now he is rather catapulted into the starting spotlight in Super Rugby once more with the news that Pietersen, a standout Stormers performer at fullback thus far, will miss Saturday’s big derby against the Sharks at Mr Price Kings Park (19:10 kickoff) through a back strain.
The fleet-footed Aplon shifts to No 15 and Van den Heever comes in at right wing in a back three that is now a bit less vertically challenged than before, however collectively slippery and skilful the first-choice trio may be.
And the Affies-educated replacement at No 14 earned an unreserved vote of confidence from captain Jean de Villiers at Wednesday’s media briefing.
“He’s a big guy (100kg and 1.90m - Sport24), quite physical and helluva fast for his size, so I think he’ll bring that sort of go-forward we want from the back,” De Villiers said.
“We’re up against two wingers for the Sharks who have done really well ... JP (Pietersen) is also a big fellow and Gerhard will be opposite Lwazi (Mvovo) so it’ll be a good battle there.
“He’s worked really, really hard since coming back from tour; lost a couple of kilograms and put in extra work ... he’s just waiting for this chance. Now it’s just for him to go out and perform and take that opportunity.”
Van den Heever may only have this fixture to try to nail down a more regular starting berth, because coach Allister Coetzee said he expected Pietersen to be fit again in time for the challenge of the Bulls at Loftus a week on.
“I’m very comfortable with the (adjustment) and it won’t change the way we play. With Gio and Joe there are systems at fullback which we look at, but it depends on their decision-making to play a bit off the cuff; what they see.
“Gio might make some different decisions to Joe at certain areas on the field and we really encourage them to have a go if there are opportunities on counter-attack, particularly.
“Players also know they have jobs to do, and it’s important to make correct decisions. Gio’s also got to take care of his positional play, make sure he kicks well ... he gives us a left-foot option from behind.”*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Susbsitutes: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Don Armand, 20 Nick Fenton-Wells, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Burton Francis