Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has said it is “touch and go” whether regular captain Schalk Burger will be back from injury in time to lead his team in their massive Vodacom Super Rugby challenge against the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus on Saturday.
There is no denying that the Stormers need a fit Burger for the match against the team that beat them in last year’s final. The Bulls are always extremely physical opponents, particularly when they play their fierce traditional rivals from the Cape, and Burger is one of the hard men in a Stormers pack that sometimes carries a question mark when it comes to mixing it with physical sides like the Bulls and Sharks.
However, while Coetzee has said there is a chance to Burger could be ready for Loftus, it seems more likely that the tough Springbok flanker will begin the easing back process the week after the Bulls clash, when the Stormers host the Western Force at Newlands.
“It is possible that Schalk will be back to play for us in Pretoria, but you have to remember that this is a very long season for us, so if there is any doubt, I would prefer to take the conservative route,” said Coetzee after his team’s encouraging 18-6 win over the Highlanders.
“It is pointless to rush a player back and then see him injured again. I wouldn’t want to jeopardise the chances of us having Schalk for the bulk of the remainder of the competition. So the game against the Force might be the ideal time for us to reintroduce Schalk and start bringing Anton van Zyl back into the picture.”
Van Zyl has been out since the pre-season after dislocating his collar-bone during a training session in February. Burger has been out for a couple of weeks with a knee injury sustained in the three point victory over the Lions that started the Stormers’ 2011 campaign.
The good news for the Stormers is that apart from JC Kritzinger, who is set to be out for a while with a knee injury, they should be at full muster at prop when the side for Loftus is selected.
Both Brok Harris and CJ van der Linde should be available for selection for the Loftus clash. Harris pulled out of the team to play the Highlanders with a wrist injury after the captain’s practice on Friday, while Van der Linde limped off with what looked like a leg injury in the second half.
Another prop, the promising young Frans Malherbe, will also be back in the selection frame after not playing this week because of flu. Jaque Fourie is also now completely over his injury and looks set to start at Loftus, which could mean that Jean de Villiers will lead the side from wing if Burger is still absent.
While the Stormers didn’t score any tries in their 18-6 win over the Highlanders, it was a significant step forward from previous performances. The Stormers’ domination of the collisions, and the physicality and aggression they brought to their approach to the breakdowns, should be seen as a confidence booster ahead of their trip to Pretoria.
Both teams played down the bouts of fighting that broke out at stages of the first half by pointing to the overall physicality of the game – “It was like a test match,” said Stormers captain Jean de Villiers – and said that it was part of the sport.
It might even have been a good thing for the Stormers in that their next opponents are renowned for their intimidation tactics, particularly against the Stormers.
“The Highlanders threw down a physical challenge to us and I am proud of the guys that we didn’t take a step back,” said De Villiers.