Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Stormers coach Allister Coetzee will already be
mulling over how to rebalance his team in the event that blue-chip tight
forward Eben Etzebeth is declared a non-starter for the Super Rugby opener
against the Bulls at Loftus in less than a fortnight.
At the time of writing, it was not yet known whether
Etzebeth’s first-quarter ankle injury in the friendly encounter with Boland
Cavaliers on Saturday had been found serious enough to rule him out of the big
north-south derby on Friday, February 22.
The young, imposing Springbok lock hobbled off after an
awkward landing from a lineout leap, in an encounter the Stormers eventually
won 57-0 - they exhibited both sprightly aspects and lingering hints of rust as
they whipped their rather pauper-like neighbours at Cape Town Stadium.
VIDEO: Stormers v Boland Cavaliers highlights
Given the Stormers’ mostly enviable squad depth in 2013,
Coetzee and his lieutenants will not be short of replacement options for the
Pretoria showdown: it is more a question of ensuring that the pack is reshaped
in the correct way in the possible absence of Etzebeth.
Somebody like the honest, reliable - if not quite
world-beating - De Kock Steenkamp could simply be drafted into the No 4 jersey
as Andries Bekker’s second-row partner, although that would really be a
less-than-ideal alliance of two customers who are both better suited to No 5
than as “enforcers” in the other shirt.
That would leave intact the initially expected loose forward
combination for the clash with the Bulls: Siya Kolisi on the open-side,
versatile Rynhardt Elstadt at No 7 and Springbok incumbent Duane Vermeulen at
No 8, where he faces an enthralling scrap with fit-again Pierre Spies.
Considering the lingering uncertainty over players like
captain Schalk Burger and Michael Rhodes through injuries of their own, that
had seemed the Stormers’ starting trio for Loftus.
But the best option for Coetzee - and he has reportedly
already dropped heavy hints that this is the route he would take - would
probably be to ask Elstadt, who looked sharp and hungry in the first half
against Boland at No 7, to revisit a lock partnership with Bekker that had been
consistently effective two seasons ago before Etzebeth burst onto the scene.
Shifting Elstadt to the second row, where he undoubtedly has
the required “mongrel” for No 4, might also afford the Stormers, who are
clearly wishing to up their try-scoring potential this season, the opportunity
to introduce a speedy, skilful, low-centre-of-gravity customer to the loose
First among such candidates would be Deon Fourie, who
started in his most customary position of hooker against Boland but had only
confirmed for extended periods of the WP Currie Cup-winning campaign in 2012 how
suited he is to a fetcher’s slot among the loosies.
Fourie was typically active and vigorous in open play on
Saturday, although he did err with a few lineout throws and when temporary
recruit Martin Bezuidenhout from the Lions got some decent game-time in the
middle of the front row as Fourie switched to the side of the scrum, he ticked
a lot of boxes.
The 23-year-old from Orkney certainly looked as though he
would be capable of serving the cause with some aplomb in Pretoria, should
Fourie indeed move to six.
Still another option for the Stormers could involve the
dynamic, tearaway Nizaam Carr, a former SA U20 star, being promoted to the side
of the scrum to leave Fourie the designated starter at hooker.
But Carr is feeling his way back from a serious knee injury
last year and at this stage perhaps offers best potential in a burst off the
bench, where his X-factor could come in handy as the contest develops against
Don Armand is another industrious, lock-loosie “crossover”
player who contributes to the Stormers’ blossoming depth.
First prize for the Stormers, however, would quite obviously
be a medical report that Etzebeth will be back running again surprisingly
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