Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The time frame for the return to Super Rugby combat of the Stormers’ first-choice captain Schalk Burger remains unclear.
It is likely to only raise anxiety levels among fans of the joint SA conference leaders, awaiting a medical verdict on the leg injury sustained against the Reds on Friday by another key loose forward, Duane Vermeulen - there have been whispers that the tough No 8 could miss the remainder of the ordinary season programme.
Springbok flank dynamo Burger has been missing from the side since tearing medial ligaments in a knee during the opening-round clash with the Hurricanes at Newlands on February 25 and if he can return to the fray against the Cheetahs on May 12 it may be ideally timed considering the Vermeulen situation.
The Stormers have one more overseas obligation, against the Force on Saturday, and a priceless bye before they must front up for that derby.
They may not be absolutely like-for-like loosies, but Burger’s physicality and work-rate is every bit in the same league as that of the former Free Stater - and there is even a school of thought that he could do justice to the No 8 slot anyway, if enterprisingly tried out there.
But a well-timed “swap” scenario, even if not in exactly the same position, does not seem quite so simple.
That is because Burger’s own comeback date keeps being pushed out quietly, after the initial estimation in late February that he would only be idle for four to six weeks.
We are now coming up for nine weeks of inactivity for the blond combatant, and former Stormers and Bok captain Bob Skinstad, presumably still with his nose close to the ground on the affairs of the franchise, said on SuperSport’s Boots & All programme on Thursday that Burger “isn’t even running yet”.
Probed by Sport24 on whether, in fact, the skipper was indeed back in a healthily “mobile” mode, WP Rugby spokesperson Gavin Lewis would only say: “Allister (Coetzee) wants our doctors to assess the players on their return next week before issuing any updates on athletes rehabbing back here in South Africa.”
So it is possible the Stormers may be at least “stretched” at loose forward for a while longer than many hope.
Don Armand, who is a complete Super Rugby rookie, has been flown over to Perth from the in-form WP Vodacom Cup side to provide cover if required at nib Stadium on Saturday, although the Stormers will probably still be able to start with a reassuring enough loose trio comprising Siya Kolisi, Rynhardt Elstadt and Nick Koster.
They also have the exciting Nizaam Carr in the party; some liken the 21-year-old to Rob Louw, the former WP and Springbok whippet, for speed and skill and if he gets greater spells of game-time off the bench or even in the starting XV he could give the Stormers an unexpected new dimension in attacking situations.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing