Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Cape Town - The Stormers are the South African team best placed to win the Vodacom Super Rugby title this year, but their chances of doing so have sustained a mortal blow with confirmation that the chances of their big guns at loose forward being available for the playoffs are disappearing.
According to the SuperSport website
, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee told an informal press gathering at the High Performance Centre in Bellville on Monday that Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen and Nick Koster are unlikely to be available to play in the playoffs, as had been hoped.
All three have been out for several months, with Burger, who was appointed to lead the team this season, not having played since the opening 20 minutes of the first match against the Hurricanes in February.
Burger was initially expected to be out for just a couple of weeks because of a knee injury.
However Burger has struggled to shake off the injury, missing his initial anticipated return during the Stormers’ overseas tour before having his expected comeback put out to the first match back of the last phase of the league season after the June break for the international window.
When that didn’t happen, Coetzee then said he would be back for the playoffs.
But even then Coetzee didn’t sound confident, as he knows how troublesome the injury has been to Burger, with every time he looks like making progress the pain returning to the injured spot when he tries to increase the intensity of his training.
It is now feared he may not play again this season, and the nature of the injury is starting to introduce some concern about his future in the game.
“I don’t like making predictions about when a player might be back from injury because you have seen what has happened this year. Every time a prognosis is made it appears something then goes wrong and it has to be pushed out,” said Coetzee.
“At the moment the chances of Schalk and Nick Koster playing a part in the Super Rugby competition look very slim.”
There is still an outside chance that Vermeulen, who has been injured since leading the Stormers to victory over the champion Reds in Brisbane in the third match of the overseas tour back in April, will be back for the playoffs. But even there, hope is fading where it was once thought that his readiness would be a fait accompli.
The good thing for the Stormers is that they do have time to spare as they need just one log point from the final league game against the Rebels at Newlands on Saturday to make sure they will advance straight to the semi-finals, meaning they will take a bye during the first week of the knock-out phase.
But they are not in a good space if you consider that it appears their application to SANZAR to have Jebb Sinclair, the Canadian No 8, cleared to play in the knock-outs has been turned down.