Cape Town - The Super Rugby season kicks off in just a couple of weeks but that does not mean that the Stormers have given up hope of signing a quality wing to off-set the perceived lack of height and bulk in the back three, the supersport.com website reports.
The Stormers administration made it known last year that they were on the look-out for a player to bolster their resources at wing and/or fullback, but negotiations with a top Samoan wing broke down when he decided to head to the northern hemisphere instead. The lack of physical presence at the back has been a problem for the Stormers ever since the departure of the giant Fijian Sireli Naqelevuki in 2010.
Naqelevuki was not everyone’s favourite player and like a lot of players from the Pacific Islands he had weaknesses related to dropping back for kicks put in behind him. And he did make some glaring mistakes, including dropping a ball behind the tryline in a match against the Sharks that led to a try to the opposition team at a crucial stage which effectively ended his career in the Cape.
However, if you look back at videos of the Stormers games in those days, it would be noticeable that it was Naqelevuki who invariably got the Stormers across the advantage line, and it may be no coincidence that try scoring by the backline players has been a problem ever since the departure of a player who frequently engaged a couple of defenders when he had the ball.
It was for fear of the talented but much smaller players they had at the back being turned over out wide that the Stormers embarked on an ultra-conservative game-plan. The addition of some bulk at the back may well be a significant part of the secret to unlocking the Stormers’ attacking game.
Of course, the departure of Springbok Bryan Habana for overseas, followed by that of Gerhard van den Heever at the end of last year, has added to the urgency of the Stormers’ search. And the injury to Cheslin Kolbe, who although not big did gain experience in the last Currie Cup season, hasn’t helped matters either.
The return to fitness of fullback Jaco Taute, who is a strongly built human specimen, has eased some of the worry, but not totally.
“We are still looking for a wing. That search continues,” confirmed coach Allister Coetzee at a Stormers press conference.
“It is part of our culture to look for players from our own region first. We have done that, and we are hoping that someone like Pat Howard might come through this year. However, without having any names or specifics in mind at the moment, we are looking outside the region and will not stop our search for what we are looking for.”
One potential remedy to the problem, if the more obvious move of shifting skipper Jean de Villiers to the wing is not considered an option, is to move Damian de Allende there. The massively built former Milnerton High School pupil did make his debut for Western Province on the wing in 2012.
“Damian will be considered as a wing and we may well play him there against the Bulls at the weekend,” said Coetzee in reference to his selection for the first Super Rugby warm-up match in Polokwane.
“He will probably start on the wing. We will obviously still see him as an option at centre too after his strong season last year, so we may move him into the midfield later in the game.”
There is a perception that De Allende lacks the pace for the position - he has explosive pace over the first few metres but doesn’t sustain it - but Coetzee said that what was more important was that De Allende work on his positional play.
“That was the problem with him at wing in his first season. We also need to work on his fielding of the ball and his kicking, something that a wing has to do a lot,” he said.
Coetzee said he had been impressed with the strongly built utility back Scott van Breda since he came to the Stormers on trial from the Southern Kings, and said he would be keeping him in the squad for Super Rugby.
Meanwhile Taute is not available for the Polokwane match because of muscle tightness, so Coetzee is taking the opportunity to look at a left field option as potential fullback back-up. Ryno Eksteen, the former Bulls Schools flyhalf, has impressed Coetzee hugely during the pre-season and he is likely to get his chance in the last line of defence at some stage of the warm-up fixture.
“Ryno can play fullback, he has played there a lot in the past, and I am really excited about what he can offer and look forward to seeing his contribution,” said Coetzee.
Eksteen, secured on contract to WP even before it became clear two years ago that Handré Pollard had signed for the Bulls, was injured for most of his first season in the Cape but is now fully recovered and has worked hard during the preparation phase.