Schalk swings pendulum against Stormers
Experienced loose-forward Schalk Burger is considered highly unlikely to take the field for the Stormers in Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby play-off match against the Brumbies, while at the same time opposition kingpin David Pocock has been cleared to play.
According to supersport.com, an official announcement will only be made at 4pm, an hour before kick-off, and it appears the Stormers management are still holding out on a slim hope that Burger may suddenly feel like he is over the groin injury that afflicted him at a training session late on Thursday.
However, sources within the camp say they would be surprised were Burger to be on the team sheet.
Michael Rhodes will come into the side at No 7 flank, with Siya Kolisi switching to the openside. While the back row might arguably have more balance with that configuration, as Rhodes brings the hard drive the Stormers might need, Burger’s absence will be felt in what should be a furious breakdown battle with the Brumbies’ Pocock.
The Burger injury would have been the last thing needed by Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, who two weeks ago was well satisfied with the way his management of the players through the season had delivered him an almost full strength squad for the business end of the competition.
However since then the Stormers have lost their two most experienced players, with Burger’s groin injury following the withdrawal earlier in the week of Duane Vermeulen, who suffered a neck spasm on the eve of the South African conference decider against the Emirates Lions a fortnight ago. The regular captain was missed against the Lions and the double blow of having Burger out will be a difficult one for the Stormers to overcome.
Meanwhile the Brumbies have also made a late change to their team, though it is a more positive one, with Wallaby flyhalf Matt Toomua being included at inside centre at the 11th hour as a replacement for Robbie Coleman. While the Stormers have lost experience, the Brumbies have gained at the most critical juncture of the season.
The Brumbies haven’t won at Newlands since George Smith intercepted a Brok Harris pass to score a match winning try in a tight game in 2010. However there was nothing between the teams when they played a league fixture at Newlands six weeks ago and the withdrawal of Burger and confirmation that Pocock has come through his latest concussion test protocols is enough to make the visitors slight favourites now to repeat their 2013 feat of winning an away play-off. On that occasion, with Jake White as coach, they beat the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus in the semifinal.
The weather in Cape Town on the morning of the game is excellent, with the sun positioned in a mostly clear blue sky, and the play-off looks set to be played in perfect, dry conditions.