CJ's chance to reignite career
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - One of the biggest enigmas in South African rugby gets an opportunity over 80 minutes to remind everyone of his quality on Saturday.
Springbok utility prop CJ van der Linde has earned a rare Stormers start in his favourite position of tighthead in the Super Rugby encounter with the Lions in Johannesburg (17:05 start).
It hasn’t been an all singing, all dancing start to his career at Newlands this season for this big unit (123kg, 1.90m), who has struggled to unseat the highly workmanlike Brok Harris from the No 3 jersey, done some time at less favoured loosehead, and also "gathered splinters" as a substitute.
But now coach Allister Coetzee has opted to do a spot of rotation following the relatively lethargic first loss of the season at the hands of the Reds, with Harris instead named among the bench-men.
From a purely scrummaging point of view, the best Stormers front row may well be Wicus Blaauw, Tiaan Liebenberg and Van der Linde, although Harris’s industry beyond the set-piece has tended to give him priority for the No 3 berth.
Robust hooker Liebenberg remains in advanced recovery mode from injury (with the mobile, tenacious Deon Fourie thus retaining that slot in his place) although Blaauw is at No 1 for the Lions date so it will be interesting to see how this prop combo fares against the ailing home franchise on Saturday.
Certainly it is a golden opportunity for Van der Linde to put in a fire-in-the-belly performance - there is a school of thought that, for all his assets of natural strength and surprisingly explosive ability with ball in hand, he does not always deliver the kind of compelling performances many judges know he is capable of.
Indeed, he has arguably remained a Springbok squad member in recent times primarily because he is able to operate on either side of the scrum, so is an attractive substitute option.
And if props mature like fine red wine with age, then 30-year-old, Welkom-born Van der Linde should be well poised to stamp his class anew: remember that he made his debut for South Africa as far back as 2002, as a 22-year-old.
Considering the recent angst (and that may be putting it mildly) experienced by Springbok-laden Sharks and Bulls scrums at the hands of the rampant Crusaders, Van der Linde re-announcing his credentials at Super Rugby level could have valuable spinoffs for the Springboks later in the year, too.
He told Sport24 on Wednesday that South Africans should not fret too much about the New Zealand outfit’s current menace at the set-piece in a World Cup year.
"Look, they’ve got a fine scrumming pack; you've seen that right through the competition. They've got good systems in place and everyone works together effectively.
"I don’t think it’s something South Africa should worry especially about; we have great ability ourselves in this area.
"Don’t forget that in Super Rugby the scrum tends not to be quite as vital a platform as it is in Tests. Even so, it's not nice to see how well the Crusaders going against South African packs and we (the Stormers) face them in three weeks' time so it's something we'll have to work on."
Van der Linde said he did not anticipate problems putting in a full game on the Highveld, despite his pretty regular deployment as a reserve of late.
"No, conditioning methods at the Stormers are very good and I feel completely ready. It's nice to feel part of the game-plan from the start."
Although Lions old boy Conrad Jantjes also returns to a Stormers starting line-up - at fullback, with Gio Aplon switching to left wing due to battling Bryan Habana’s injury - coach Coetzee resisted the temptation to field another former Gauteng-based player in experienced lock Anton van Zyl.
Instead De Kock Steenkamp stands in for Rynhardt Elstadt in the second row, with Van Zyl part of Coetzee's intended strategy to make use of pretty strong back-up forward options off the bench.