Coetzee must fit four into three
Johannesburg - The DHL Stormers are keeping their build-up to Saturday’s massive Vodacom Super Rugby derby against the Vodacom Bulls under wraps, with no open training sessions or press conferences scheduled until the team announcement on Thursday, but there shouldn’t be any secret to what the biggest selection dilemma will be this week.
According to the supersport.com website, to put it simply, coach Allister Coetzee needs to find a way to fit four inform Springbok loose-forwards into a winning loose trio. Up until the match against the Western Force, not all the loose-forwards were firing, as Nizaam Carr wasn’t repeating the excellent form that earned him a national call-up last year.
However, against the Force the No 8 hit his straps and regained his old confidence, delivering a busy and energetic performance that should have taken him close to the man of the match award. The Stormers were unlucky not to score a try off one particularly impressive run from Carr.
The problem for Coetzee, if you could call it that, is that skipper Duane Vermeulen has now completed his rest period that started when he travelled home at the halfway point of the four match overseas tour, meaning that he effectively missed three games in all as he was also rested for the first. Vermeulen should return to the back of the scrum for the Newlands clash, which will mean that Carr will have to be accommodated elsewhere.
Last season Carr was used at openside flank during Super Rugby, and he made a good fist of it due to a gym programme that packed on extra weight and enabled him to become more attritional in his approach, something that is a pre-requisite for a No 6. Carr played some good games on the openside, possibly the best being when the Stormers narrowly beat the Sharks in Durban, with Carr being at the heart of the disruption that prevented the then conference leaders from getting any momentum.
Carr did play some games at openside flank earlier this season, but he didn’t look the right fit. He lost the weight he packed on during a fasting period last June and July, and during Western Province’s successful Absa Currie Cup campaign, the trimmed down Carr was more of a creative force than a destructive one as he thrived in his preferred position of No 8.
Now that he has become better suited to a linking role, Carr sets up a dilemma for the coach in the sense that Schalk Burger these days is also performing that role, and doing it really well. Indeed, there were times in last week’s game in Perth when you almost wondered why Burger didn’t just wear the No 10 on his back instead of Demetri Catrakilis.
Burger’s linking skills have become important for the Stormers, but although he did make an exception for the first tour game against the Highlanders in Dunedin and again against the Waratahs, Coetzee has expressed reluctance to play both he and Carr together in the same back row. Against the Highlanders the mix was Burger as a blindside flank and Carr operating off the back, and ditto for Sydney, but with Vermeulen back, now Coetzee would have to go for them both as flankers.
With Michael Rhodes out for several weeks with a hamstring injury and Rynhardt Elstadt unlikely to return before the end of the competition after undergoing an ankle operation after tearing ligaments against the Blues in the second match, for now it looks as though Coetzee is not going to have the option of a traditional driving style blindside flank.
Siya Kolisi and Burger are both good carriers, but not in the driving mould of a Willem Alberts. Last week Burger wore the No 7 and Kolisi the No 6, whereas against the Waratahs it was Burger who started at No 6 with Rhodes fulfilling the blindside role.
Against the Bulls it is likely that the Kolisi and Burger continue at 6 and 7 respectively with Vermeulen providing physical presence from No 8 and Carr impact from the bench, but it will be interesting to see how Coetzee juggles his four Boks and in what roles he plays them going forward now that they are effectively the last members of what he would have considered his elite loose-forward group at the start of the year left standing.