Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Cape Town - Springbok centre Juan de Jongh is racing against time to be fit for the Stormers’ opening Super Rugby fixture against the Bulls in Pretoria on Friday, February 22
According to the Supersport.com website, De Jongh’s hamstring injury was the only real concern for the Stormers in their warm-up fixture against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this past weekend, even though they lost the game to a late long range penalty (27-26). No professional rugby player likes to lose, but the results of these preparation games are insignificant, and the Stormers should be heartened that their young, under-strength team dominated the game for long periods even though they were under-strength.
The outside centre’s hamstring was to be assessed on Sunday with the results disclosed on Monday, but coach Allister Coetzee was hoping that the injury would necessitate a 14 day lay-off which would enable him to be available for the Bulls match. However, it seems likely it might be a bit longer, which means he could be in doubt for the derbies against the Bulls and the Sharks the following week.
Depending when Peter Grant returns from Japan, Coetzee could have several options in the event of De Jongh being unavailable – he could select Grant or Damian de Allende in the No 12 jersey and field Jean de Villiers at outside centre, where he played some of his international rugby last season, or he could reunite De Villiers and Jaco Taute as a midfield combination. They played together in the final Rugby Championship fixtures in 2012 as well as in the match against Ireland in Dublin.
So Coetzee is being given an early, welcome reminder of the benefits of the depth that he now has available since the move of a clutch of Lions players to the Cape, as well as the maturation of several players who were newcomers last year. He should certainly have been pleased, for instance, with the performance of flanker Don Armand in Bloemfontein.
Another player who advanced his cause was flyhalf Kurt Coleman, who did enough to show that he could be a viable alternative for Grant or Elton Jantjies should they be injured at any stage of the season. Coleman’s decision making was good, his passing has always been good and his place-kicking wasn’t bad either.
Coleman made his debut for the Stormers in an emergency situation two seasons ago when he was called up as the fifth ranked Stormers flyhalf during the overseas leg of Super Rugby. He was then just 21 and was on the winning side against the Brumbies and Rebels in his first two games but he was clearly nervous. Those nerves are a lot less evident two seasons later.
Taute, playing in his preferred position of fullback, and another Lions recruit, hooker Martin Bezuidenhout, were also impressive in a game that was marked by a positive return to the playing field of star Springbok flanker Juan Smith. Wearing the No 23 jersey, Smith came onto the field in the second half, the first time he has seen action in two years, and he proved inspirational to his teammates as they fought back from a substantial deficit at one stage to win.
The Stormers, although scrappy and clearly needing to shake off early season rust, were the better team though, and forwards coach Matt Proudfoot should be particularly pleased with the strong showing in the lineouts and scrums, while the feared driving maul has lost none of its effectiveness.
The Stormers round off the onfield part of their preparation for Super Rugby with a match against Boland at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday and the game should be marked by the return to the playing field of skipper Schalk Burger, who together with his good mate Jean de Villiers was seen chatting with Bok teammate Smith after the game at Vodacom Park.