Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The considerably talented
Nizaam Carr probably shapes up as likeliest occupant of the Stormers’ No 8
jersey now that captain Duane Vermeulen has been inconveniently ruled out of
their Super Rugby “quarter-final” against the Brumbies at Newlands on Saturday.
Allister Coetzee has long made it clear
that he regards “Nemo” as the main back-up to Springbok iron man Vermeulen in
the role, and tends to trust his pecking orders in most positions.
But if the head coach doesn’t want to
depart too much from the notably physical playing style of his absentee leader
in the slot, then he may be tempted to at least chew on the possibility of a
more like-for-like replacement for the critical date against the Aussie side.
That man is a certain Schalk Burger, an
even more street-wise international loose forward than Vermeulen and another
who hates taking backward steps in the heat of combat.
The tireless veteran, if anything, actually
plays increasingly in the style of a multi-dimensional No 8, given the addition
to his repertoire in recent times of subtle hand skills to go with his more
direct, rugged qualities.
At the start of 2014, Burger confirmed to
Sport24 that he was “not hell-bent on a particular shirt” and willing to aid
the cause in any of the loose forward positions if required.
As much as having a player of the emerging
calibre of Carr as an attractive option at No 8 is a comfort to the
Newlands-based franchise – he led their “dirt-trackers” from there in the
academic game against the Sharks on Saturday – he is a very different type of
animal to Vermeulen both in tale-of-the-tape and playing-style terms.
Carr’s big strength is in fluid, open play,
where he is mobile and rangy, and loves a linking role in attacking moves. It
is in keeping with his height and weight difference to the mountainous, close
quarters-relishing regular skipper: 103kg and 1.84m, versus Vermeulen’s 116kg
But are the Stormers going to depart too much
from their mostly conservative playing style for this high-stakes, KO affair?
You rather suspect not.
And that is why Coetzee may find it worth
at least contemplating stationing Burger at No 8 in an alliance with Siya
Kolisi (open side) and Michael Rhodes on the blindside flank if he feels the
route to victory is via tight, hard-earned yards.
Playing the fit-again Rhodes, one of those
No 7s who can easily double as a four lock, helps both to retain a general theme
of muscularity in the pack and add a good lineout option.
Carr will always be a good game-breaking
option as a substitute in any team, although that is not to wish to pigeon-hole
him as some sort of perennial “supersub”; he is way better than that.
It is just that Burger (114kg, 1.93m) may
yet be the correct horse for Saturday’s course in the eighth-man role, given
the hole that needs filling.
After all, the Brumbies should employ the
formidable Tongan Ita Vaea, who tips the scales at 119kg, as their No 8 at
Newlands, and if the going happens to be heavy – though early weather forecasts
suggest a dry day – specimens like that can be invaluable.
Coetzee has not yet said for certain that
Carr will start, and said at Monday’s media briefing that he is “pleased with
Nemo’s getting back to form”.
In some ways, that may be viewed as
recognition that the former UCT and Baby Bok maestro hasn’t yet matched, in
2015, his amazing zest of last year that saw him earn deserved, maiden Test
caps off the bench on the Springbok end-of-year tour.
He began this season hampered by the
after-effects of a pre-season illness, and has not yet had a genuine blinder
for the Stormers, even if you always feel it may be lurking dangerously just
around the corner.
I am not suggesting for a minute that Carr
would be the wrong selection at No 8 against the Brumbies; he may well turn out
to make an important difference with his “footballing” skills and stealth and
is probably still the favourite.
But it would also surprise me if Coetzee
doesn’t at least mull over a different formula for the task at hand.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing