Vodacom Super Rugby
Stormers v Bulls fetcher-free?
Deon Stegmann (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - At least in the team line-ups at Newlands on Saturday, we may see some evidence that Jake White is right: fetchers really are placed on this planet simply for getting him his beer from the fridge.
Unless Deon Stegmann is considered properly fit - or worthy - enough to be restored to the Bulls team after his hamstring injury, neither they nor the Super Rugby-leading Stormers are likely to boast a specialist open-side flank in Saturday’s big derby clash (19:10 kick-off).
How each side copes in that reasonably rare event, could go a long way to determining the winners in what is being viewed by some pundits as a fixture almost too tight to call.
Before the 61-8 slaughter of defending champions the Reds at Loftus last weekend, the Bulls reportedly felt Stegmann was touch-and-go for the clash, and eventually opted against including him with longer-range thoughts of the south-north sizzler in mind.
If the Springbok-capped scavenger is deemed ready for action in the Cape, however, a new dilemma presents itself to coach Frans Ludeke and his brains trust: is it advisable to tamper with such a convincing, winning combination?
After all, Stegmann can be even more prone to penalty concession than various other fetchers are in Super Rugby, and there is a case for sticking to the loose forward status quo which fired so impressively against the Queenslanders: revitalised captain Pierre Spies, the rugged Jacques Potgieter and “emergency” No 6 CJ Stander.
Stander is a promising young talent more suited to No 8 and, as another strong ball-carrier, perhaps also blindside flank.
But against the Reds, the home team had so much front-foot oomph and retained their own ball so much better than they did in the earlier defeat to the Blues that having a low-centre-of-gravity, particularly mobile pilferer didn’t turn out to be a major requirement.
In short, Stegmann wasn’t massively missed.
Ludeke may be torn between two views on the Stormers game: fielding a fit Stegmann would give him the comfort of knowing his side possessed the only specialist at No 6 on the day, but by not choosing him he would hardly be losing too much because of the awareness that the opposition will be in exactly the same boat by sporting three more “upright” loosies.
The Stormers are presently soldiering on, unbeaten - and thus fairly successfully - without captain Schalk Burger to patrol the open side.
It has been less of a train smash than some experts might have feared, bearing in mind that they also surrendered the fetching qualities of Francois Louw to Bath after last season.
In the absence of Louw and then also Burger, the Stormers have not too obviously come up short on the deck, with the immense overall work-rates of Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen and Nick Koster and other members of the pack compensating to a good degree.
Still, there were times in the unexpectedly close-shave, exhausting victory over the under-strength Lions on Saturday when the Stormers did look a little vulnerable in 50-50 contesting situations at breakdowns and a “mole” might have come in handy.
One area where the Lions have not been too affected in their injury hoodoo, after all, has been at loose forward, where Derick Minnie led the hungry charge on the floor, Josh Strauss also engineered some turnovers and Warren Whiteley grafted like a Trojan - they also had the luxury of another fetcher of repute in Cobus Grobbelaar available for late deployment off the bench.
The Stormers have been relatively happy, for whatever reason, to largely overlook the match-day squad credentials of someone like Rohan Kitshoff, the nuggety Namibian international and former Griquas open-sider who is much more involved with the Western Province team at Vodacom Cup level right now.
So will Stegmann fight the dedicated fetching cause alone at Newlands on Saturday, or will Ludeke effectively go along with “Jake White theory” and just not bother?*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing