Stormers may spring a surprise
Johannesburg - Coach Allister Coetzee has mentioned his name almost every time he has spoken about his wing options for Saturday’s opening Vodacom Super Rugby clash with the Bulls at Loftus, but the likely inclusion of Johnny Kotze at No 14 will nonetheless be regarded as a surprise selection.
According to the supersport.com website, although Kobus van Wyk, the regular Stormers right wing, has apparently fully recovered from his calf injury, the fact that he has played less than half an hour of rugby in the pre-season is likely to see him excluded from the starting team when it is announced at lunch time on Thursday.
EW Viljoen was seen as a possible replacement as he played for Western Province in the final Currie Cup league game of last year and did quite well, while Huw Jones, after turning in a solid performance at inside centre in his first start for the Stormers against the Cheetahs, was probably the favourite to slot into Van Wyk’s regular position.
However, it is understood that Kotze has been training on the wing this week, and is likely to “do a Van Wyk” by starting his first season of Super Rugby there in Pretoria. We say “do a Van Wyk” because the first choice right wing was actually an outside centre before he was thrown in at the deep end in his new position in the opening match of 2014 against the Lions at Ellis Park.
And that is exactly where Kotze played for the WP under-21 side last year. Kotze’s selection does make sense if you think about it, for Coetzee is looking for a like for like replacement, and Kotze is a big explosive player in the Van Wyk mould. His size alone should ensure that some balance is brought to a Stormers back three that might otherwise look a little short of physical stature.
Bringing through big wingers has become a focus at WP since Gert Smal arrived as director of rugby, and Kenyan Sevens star Willy Ambaka is also part of the Stormers training squad even though he is not on a full contract as yet. Ambaka arrived in the Cape at the start of the last Currie Cup season from Lyon but was unable to get onto the field because of injury, with Springbok Sevens hero Seabelo Senatla nailing down the position he was earmarked for. Ambaka has the physical attributes and will probably be given an opportunity at Vodacom Cup level to prove his readiness to make the step up.
The Stormers had an Argentinian winger in their sights at the start of the year but lost out because of that country’s need to prepare for their entry into Super Rugby next season.
It will be interesting to see how Kotze goes against the Bulls as the Stormers have had a knack in the Coetzee era of unearthing new stars that were not well known at the start of the season but became established and important weapons in the team arsenal by the end of it. It is something that perhaps needs to be taken into account by those who are writing off the Stormers chances on the basis of the names on the team sheet.
Dillyn Leyds may be a case in point when it comes to expectation for this year. Leyds returned from Western Force late last year and made only a couple of appearances for WP, the first being a disastrous outing at fullback against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. On that basis his appearances on the wing in the pre-season games have been regarded as an indication that the Stormers might be struggling there, but Leyds was the star act of the WP under-21 team that won the national competition in 2013.
Stormers backline coach Robbie Fleck has given Leyds a big rap and explained that he has been allowed to settle now, something he was unable to do when called into action so soon after arriving back from his stint in Perth in 2014.
“He came here a bit underdone physically and mentally for the Currie Cup, and he was carrying an injury too,” said Fleck.
“But he’s taken that on board and has shown a lot of class in the pre-season games, he has been really impressive. We rate him as a footballer and he’s a natural No 15, but he can also slot in on the wing and at flyhalf. We will look to have our best footballer at fullback, which is why Cheslin Kolbe is playing there. Dillyn though can play that role too and he covers a lot of ground on the field.”
The Leyds ability to double as a fullback will come in handy against a Bulls team that has the kickers on the highveld to ensure that the inexperienced Stormers back three players will have their work cut out for them. Even though Bulls captain Victor Matfield is talking about a running game, it would come as a major surprise were there no early attempts to turn young Kotze with kicks and to put some high balls onto Kolbe.