Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The welcome presence of senior hooker Tiaan Liebenberg
among the Stormers reserves for Saturday’s Super Rugby clash with the Chiefs at Newlands here may give the home team a more meaningful opportunity to inject a speed merchant to their loose trio as the key game develops.
While naming an unchanged starting line-up
for the meeting with the defending champions, the restoration of Liebenberg to the match-day 22 might well give coach Allister Coetzee
the option of shifting versatile Deon Fourie from No 2 responsibilities to open-side flank either at or not too long after the halftime break.
Fourie brings the sort of dynamism and stealth to loose-forward play that Keegan Daniel
does to the Sharks - though the latter is currently injured - even if his off-loading skills may not be in quite the same league as the diminutive Springbok’s.
The Sharks have traditionally valued the balance someone like Daniel brings to their loosies, as he can be a hugely effective tearaway and general attacking opportunist, and to all intents and purposes becomes an extra backline player due to his mobility, stepping and speed off the mark.
It may be one reason for explaining why the Sharks, who fought their way through to last year’s Hamilton final against Saturday’s Newlands visitors, appear to score tries more comfortably these days than most of their main rivals in the South African conference.
If the Stormers feel they need more brawn in their tight five - particularly at the scrums, where they are under scrutiny - some time during combat with the Chiefs, Liebenberg should be good value for at least half an hour’s play after his lengthy layoff through a back injury.
At the same time, Fourie would then become an attractive possibility for a continued on-field role among the loose forwards.
Another course of action, whether it involves making a change at hooker or not, could be to introduce the nippy and creative Nizaam Carr to the fray a bit earlier than has occurred in the first two matches of the season, where the Stormers have come off second best on the scoreboard each time.
Certainly if they happen to find themselves chasing the game against the Chiefs, Carr or Fourie adding some gusto to the loose trio makes sense; it may also aid the quest of the Stormers’ backline players to find some continuity and vitality and get over the advantage line.
Asked by Sport24 at Wednesday’s media briefing whether he was confident Liebenberg would have the stamina to go at least 40 minutes if necessary, Coetzee said: “Yes, definitely ... I wouldn’t have had him on the bench if not.
“What happens if Deon gets injured in the first 20? I’m definitely confident Tiaan could complete the game from there.”
The incumbent Stormers loose trio features Duane Vermeulen
at No 8, Siya Kolisi
at open-side and Rynhardt Elstadt, who is also well acquainted with lock, on the blindside flank.
They lack nothing collectively in robustness and commitment at close quarters, but there is no hot-stepper or true tearaway among them.
Is that a problem? The Stormers coach doesn’t think so, even if some observers may slightly differ.
“Look, you are spot-on when you speak about physicality, and that is a question that is always asked of you by opposing teams.
“So you don’t respond by having quick guys ... you must fight fire with fire. We’ve got good balance in the loosies; don’t forget that Deon plays his part on the ground from the hooker position as well.
“Siya, Rynhardt and Duane are busy growing again as a combination; finding each other.”
Defending his broader continuity in selection, despite the nought-from-two situation, Coetzee said: “For us it’s important to keep backing the players who made mistakes and have learnt from that ... I said after the last game (against the Sharks) that it was a big improvement.
“So I don’t see any reason at this point (to change) if you don’t necessarily have players to improve the situation.”
Asked whether it was melodramatic to talk of the Stormers being at a “crossroads”, he replied: “No that’s not melodramatic. It’s reality for us.
“But we’re excited to be at Newlands, where we will have our passionate support behind us and I’m sure that will give us an extra push against the champions, who can tear any opponent apart on attack - we’re in for a big game.
“We’ve prepared well.”Teams:Stormers:
15. Joe Pietersen, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Nic Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen
, 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 6. Siya Kolisi
, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. De Kock Steenkamp, 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16. Tiaan Liebenberg
, 17. Pat Cilliers, 18. Don Armand, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Dewaldt Duvenhage, 21. Peter Grant, 22. Gerhard van den HeeverChiefs:
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing