Signs of Rassie legacy in Cape

2012-01-23 07:06

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – I was a little critical of director of coaching Rassie Erasmus’s decision to quit the Stormers/Western Province just ahead of the new season, and still am.

He apparently stepped down, seemingly just as his industry was set to bear tangible fruit, frustrated by the complex politics of rugby in the Western Cape – a situation unlikely to be massively altered since he first signed up at Newlands three or four years back.

Nevertheless, his strong commitment to gradually bringing through bright young talent from within the province was well-known and presumably appreciated by many around him.

And in the Stormers’ first pre-season run-out, against smaller franchise partner the Boland Cavaliers at a furnace-like Wellington on Saturday, we saw glimpses of his policy paying off, even if any “delivery” – in the form of long-awaited significant silverware – will now have to take place in his absence.

Whether the Cape side are finally ready to go all the way to the Super Rugby or Currie Cup titles remains to be seen, of course: they are sure to find it hard in the short term to compensate for the irksome loss of key, counter-balancing experienced personnel like Jaque Fourie and Francois Louw.

But in this friendly derby before a healthy crowd, featuring a massively experimental visiting side – arguably starting with fourth, fifth or even sixth choices in some positions – also came good evidence of an abundant stock of players in or not long out of the U21 ranks, seemingly fearless about the possibility of being asked to make a huge step up pretty shortly.

Under the circumstances, the Stormers seeing off last season’s Currie Cup first division monopolisers 45-14, and by seven tries to two, represented a sound enough start to their gruelling 2012 journey, considering also that several rehabbing “hardebaarde” are set to re-enter the equation over the next couple of weeks or thereabouts.

One of the ironies of the occasion was that arguably the visiting player to most consistently catch the eye was near 34-year-old scrumhalf Bolla Conradie, who confirmed reports that he has started this season with a renewed glint of ambition in his eyes.

He sniped through a hole delightfully for the second Stormers try in the 15th minute, was the chief architect in teeing up another for powerful right wing Danie Poolman, and generally did his duties extremely impressively.

Conradie has probably lost half a yard in outright pace in open play, but he remains snappy enough off the mark and could greatly aid the franchise’s depth at No 9 even if he doesn’t always get ahead of Dewaldt Duvenage or Nic Groom in the pecking order for starts.

And if that situation does materialise, it will be a praiseworthy renaissance for a player who last contributed to the Springbok cause as a substitute in a 19-8 Tri-Nations defeat to the All Blacks in July 2008 in Wellington ... er, the slightly cooler one, that is.

The Boland version was a stamina-sapping 34 deg C at kick-off on Saturday, meaning a rugby match seemed as mean an event as leaving a dog in a car without a window open. Why, Springbok spring-heeled favourite Gio Aplon looked fatigued just sitting safely among the substitutes in the shade.

But, to all the various combatants’ credit, it didn’t prevent the game from having some periods of genuinely sprightly, purposeful play, even with rust-induced mistakes frequently apparent and a disruptive problem yet again with collapsed scrums – pray that is not going to be a constant feature of the rugby landscape throughout the year!

Just which greenhorns in the Stormers ranks will eventually make the squad cut for the first Super Rugby fixture against the Hurricanes at Newlands on February 25 is a matter for speculation, but several did begin the process of putting up their hands.

Beefy front-rower Frans Malherbe produced some bullocking ball-carries, including one for a try, which is always gratifying for those behemoths they call tightheads, Eben Etzebeth was similarly workaholic in the second row alongside captain for the day De Kock Steenkamp, and at No 8 Nizaam Carr earned a fitting “ever-present” tribute from SuperSport commentator Robbie Kempson.

The latter’s pace and keenness to be constructive was especially eye-opening: might he just have some role to play in compensating to a degree for the loss to Bath of specialist fetcher Louw?

Carr is perhaps not geared to be an out-and-out scavenger for the ball on the deck, but there may be certain similarities in his game to Luke Watson, who doubled quite successfully at different stages at Newlands as an orthodox No 8 and turnover factor at the breakdown.

Amongst the backs, there were pleasing little touches from the likes of Berton Klaasen to suggest that if either of Jean de Villiers or Juan de Jongh suddenly succumb to injury or over-use in midfield, they may not be quite as stretched for deputies as has been feared.

There is a danger of reading too much into height-of-summer exercises like this one, but at least last year’s SA conference winners are out of the blocks fairly decently and already look in satisfying conditioning nick ...

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