Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - Blindside flank Michael Rhodes has flown home to Cape Town after injuring his ankle, but the positive side of the balance sheet far outweighs the negative when it comes to Stormers coach Allister Coetzee’s options for Friday’s crucial Vodacom Super Rugby showdown with the Blues.
According to the supersport website, both teams that clash at the North Shore Stadium in Albany are in a must-win situation, the Blues because their defeat to the Reds this past week means they need to keep in touch with the Chiefs, and the Stormers because defeat would ruin the momentum they have picked up over the past two games.
That being so, Coetzee should consider the return to full fitness of Eben Etzebeth as a timely one as the Springbok should add considerably to the power and momentum of his pack. There is further good news for Stormers fans in that Siya Kolisi, who missed the 18-16 win over the Hurricanes because of a groin injury, has apparently already been cleared to play in the game.
Coetzee was initially going to give Kolisi until Tuesday to prove his fitness, but according to reports from Auckland, the big flanker is already ready to resume full training. Coetzee will update the status of his squad in a hook-up with the Cape media later on Monday.
Elton Jantjies is also now 100% ready to play again after recovering fully from the knee twist he suffered against the Cheetahs three weeks ago. He is likely to play off the bench in Albany because Gary van Aswegen has done a good job at No 10 and has brought a steadiness to the Stormers in that channel.
Bryan Habana came off the field early against the Hurricanes but Coetzee ascribed it to “tiredness” and says that the Springbok will definitely be ready to face the Blues.
Utility forward Don Armand, who is equally at home these days at lock as he is at flank, has flown to New Zealand to replace Rhodes, who was the man of the match against the Sharks two matches ago and was also good in the first half against the Hurricanes. But Armand shouldn’t be required for this game as Etzebeth will be back in the frame at lock, meaning either he or De Kock Steenkamp will provide cover in that position, with Nizaam Carr continuing as the loose-forward reserve.
The absence of Rhodes in the starting team is more than just a bit negated by the presence of Rynhardt Elstadt, who wore the No 6 jersey against the Hurricanes in Kolisi’s place but who was one of the star performers for the Stormers as a blindside flank before he was ruled out for a few weeks with injury.
With Kolisi back at full fitness it means that Coetzee has a full strength pack available for the first time this season (the obvious exception being Schalk Burger of course but he hasn’t played now for significantly more than a year).
The Stormers were strong on the drive against the Hurricanes and will need to be so again against the Blues, who they have beaten on their last two visits to Auckland, which is just across the bridge from Friday’s venue.
An area they will need to look at though is their defence for the Hurricanes were allowed too many line-breaks and there were too many slipped tackles for comfort. The Blues, in Rene Ranger, have one of the most explosive players in the competition in their ranks and they are certainly equipped to exploit any Stormers mistakes.
At the same time, the Stormers should have been encouraged by the way the Reds’ defensive system kept the Blues in check in Brisbane this past weekend.