Cape Town – Western Province and Stormers coach Allister
Coetzee must be sick to death of dreaming of ideal lock combinations ... but
then so seldom being able to actually field them.
For each of the last two Super Rugby seasons, for instance,
he has been deprived of his top-line young second-rower Eben Etzebeth, already
acknowledged as one of the best in his No 4 berth in the world, for massive
chunks of the campaign.
It happened in 2013, when the brawny Springbok landed
awkwardly on an ankle in a pre-season friendly against Boland at Cape Town
Stadium, ruling him out for rather longer than the first anticipated six to
eight weeks, whilst again this year Etzebeth was sidelined – this time for
Super Rugby’s entirety – after foot surgery.
He frustratingly picked up that mishap in his very last
scheduled rugby match of 2013, when the Boks beat France in Paris but at a significant
personal cost to the player.
With a bit of luck, the Stormers will finally get plenty of
activity out of their key asset in the 2015 season: indeed, some supporters and
observers of the franchise had already begun to get excited recently about the
prospect of two muscular but athletic and tall-timber specimens – Etzebeth and
Ruan Botha – possibly teaming up as first choices for the competition.
But things are never straightforward in the second-row
department at Newlands, as 2012 IRB Junior World Championship-winning Botha –
he was Paul Willemse’s partner in the final against New Zealand at the venue –
has just succumbed to a season-ending ankle injury.
It is a significant blow to the current log-leaders’ quest
to regain the Currie Cup which they last won in 2012 – it is just possible the
22-year-old, 2.06m Botha may not even be 100 percent ready to get stuck into
Super Rugby 2015 immediately alongside a presumably fit and firing Etzebeth.
Another fast-emerging rookie, Jean Kleyn, also now being
ruled out for three to four weeks leaves Province particularly thin at lock (and
“grunt” in the tight five generally) for the critical run-in phase to the
October 25 showpiece if they can go all the way.
But it is here that someone like utility forward Rynhardt
Elstadt – still only 24 although he seems to have been in the Newlands set-up for
ages – can play a priceless role in stepping up in a major way.
The hard man born in Johannesburg but who grew up in Montagu
seems an inviting fit for the No 4 jersey, particularly, over the next few
weeks even if coach Coetzee may also view him as good blindside flank material
again and then reintroduce the yeoman Michael Rhodes to lock from the side of
Elstadt is one of several WP/Stormers players to have spent
rather more time than the brains trust would like over the last couple of years
on the treatment table or in agonisingly slow, associated rehab from injuries.
The 115kg package’s direct, rugged brand of rugby is
probably directly linked to the setbacks he experiences on that front, but he
has also fallen foul a few times of not being able to put his hands to the pump
through disciplinary-related suspension.
He is only just eligible again for selection, for example,
after a three-week ban for a reckless clean-out against the EP Kings.
That said, his return is suddenly very timely, given the
dual Kleyn-Botha blow, and perhaps the answer to the lock void is to pair up
Elstadt with -- at No 5 -- seasoned Argentinean journeyman and lineout caller
The 44-cap Pumas representative – though presently out of
favour with the labouring Castle Rugby Championship side – has been in and out
of the Province and Stormers team in his workmanlike but thus far unspectacular
maiden year in Cape Town, and also needs to come to the party at an important
But you just fancy that Elstadt seems particularly ripe for
lighting a fresh fire in a WP pack that continues to lack a bit of set-piece
and broad “mongrel” aura and is arguably the likeliest reason why the
blue-and-white-hoops might fall just short of the silverware again unless they
shape up on the final straight.
Remember that not too many seasons ago, when that freak of
nature Andries Bekker was still in the mix, Elstadt formed a highly-rated
second-row combo with him in a particularly competitive Stormers side at the
He needs to re-enter the fray bristling with constructive
aggression and energy, and anxious to make up some lost own ground for the
*WP name their team to face the Cheetahs away this Saturday
(14:00, live on SuperSport) on Thursday.
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