SuperSport Challenge to test Stormers' depth
Cape Town - They have only played four games in 2017, but already the Stormers have had their depth tested this Super Rugby season.
Numerous injuries to some big players means that coach Robbie Fleck has had to turn to a number of youngsters to do the business as the Capetonians look to secure their path to a home quarter-final.
It has all worked out so far - the Stormers are undefeated - but there are some seriously tough fixtures around the corner including a three-week tour of New Zealand where matches against the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes await.
And, to throw another little spanner into the works, the first ever SuperSport Rugby Challenge is set to get underway on April 22.
The new-look 15-team provincial tournament (including a Nambian team) will provide a platform for the fringe players in the Super Rugby squads to get some much-needed game time.
The tournament will run until July 16, and while it is not as long as the old Vodacom Cup it does at least accommodate some competitive rugby.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez has been vocal on the need for such a tournament as he looks to get his fringe squad members playing, but Fleck could be forgiven if he did not share that enthusiasm as the arrival of the competition draws near.
The Stormers have Seabelo Senatla, Reynhardt Elstadt, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Huw Jones, Scarra Ntubeni, Wilco Louw, JD Schickerling, Leolin
Zas, Steph de Wit and Martin Ferreira all out injured at the moment.
But, Fleck says, the Stormers are prepared for the competition.
"Our depth has been tested now. We've always known that this competition is coming and that we've had to build a greater squad," he said.
"What's important for us is that we always need 30 guys to train with every single day and that's going to test us with all the injuries that we've got.
"It's going to test our depth and we're going to have to start bringing club players and Varsity Cup players through.
"When you don't have any injuries it's certainly not a problem, but when both competitions are playing at the same time, if you do have a long injury list like we do then it could be a problem."
Fleck was happy with the format of the competition and that it didn't run throughout the entire Super Rugby season.
"The shortened version is better. The Vodacom Cup was too long," he said.
"It's good that there is a competition that is being played because your fringe players are getting game time, which for any rugby player is the best sort of preparation.
"As long as the main franchise doesn't get affected. That's one thing we've made a big change in; in the past we've sort of shared a squad where now our major focus is the Stormers and we've got to build capacity below with the Western Province team and they've got to bring through young, talented players.
"When the time is right for them to give us to give some of those guys game time, then we can afford to do that. As long as your planning is good, then both competitions at the same time is not a bad thing."
John Dobson will coach the Western Province team in the SuperSport Challenge. Their first match will be against the EP Kings in Port Elizabeth on April 23.
Western Province will also take on the Pumas at Newlands in a warm-up match this Saturday. That match, which kicks-off at 12:25, will serve as the curtain raiser for the Stormers v Cheetahs at 15:05.