Carr can start Stormers’ engine
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Losing your Springbok incumbent No 8 for a few weeks is another deflating blow to an ailing cause, but Nizaam Carr could prove an unexpected tonic for the Stormers if selected to plug the hole for this Friday.
The embattled Cape franchise, their 2013 Super Rugby campaign destined to become easily their worst yet under the conference system, enter their fixture against the limited but free-spirited Rebels in Melbourne (11:40 SA time) considerably less favoured to win than would have been the case a few weeks ago.
Rightfully criticised for impotence on attack - a problem that has bubbled for some time but only actually “boiled over” glaringly more recently - the Stormers have been done no favours with one of their bedrock players, Duane Vermeulen, now ruled out for probably the remainder of the campaign with another knee injury.
Yet there may just be a silver lining to the absence of both Vermeulen and similarly rugged blindside flank Rynhardt Elstadt after their respective mishaps in the costly late reverse to the Waratahs in Sydney.
If head coach Allister Coetzee is going to stick to his statement to scribes a few weeks ago that the only reason Carr has featured so little this season – limited to short cameos off the bench – is because he is viewed as the understudy to the ever-essential Vermeulen in the No 8 shirt, then the young tearaway will finally run out in the match-day XV against the Rebels.
If that is indeed the case, the 22-year-old will be well worth assessing by critics, given that he is such a different animal in playing style and physique to Vermeulen.
The latter’s qualities, after all, are pretty squarely based around his strength, relish for contact and consistently reliable work-rate.
At 1.93m and a beefy 116kg, a speed merchant Vermeulen is not – a situation probably not aided by the fact that previous major knee surgeries have been required for him and they don’t exactly enhance pace off the mark.
I have made the suggestion before, even it does not seem a particularly heartily-supported view, that just one reason why the Stormers are struggling for tries again this season is that their favoured loose trio (until the double disaster in Sydney) of Vermeulen, Elstadt and Siya Kolisi is too weighted in favour of brawn at close quarters and makes little allowance for genuine enterprise or that oft-favoured term “X-factor”.
All are outstanding, emphatically proven competitors in their own ways, but absent among them as a combination is at least one loosie capable of meaningfully linking with the backline in either structured or unstructured attacking play – in the manner, for instance, a Heinrich Brussow can for the Cheetahs or a more in-form Keegan Daniel or Ryan Kankowski for the Sharks.
Certainly the last couple of weeks have only hugely fuelled my own feeling that the Stormers lack a loose forward capable of suddenly bursting over the advantage line after a devilish step or dummy and thus creating opportunities for the array of renowned nippy customers out wide for the team.
But if Carr comes into the equation that situation could just change more for the better than people realise.
While not suggesting for a second that the former Bishops, UCT and 2011 SA U20 bolter (he played in the same Baby Bok team at the IRB Junior World Championship as squad-mate Eben Etzebeth) is remotely the finished article at this level yet, if he earns the nod and simultaneously gets a passport to play with a certain amount of freedom, the Stormers may find a sharper edge to their quest to improve their poor try tally (a tourney-wide low 17 in 10 matches).
Considerably shorter than Vermeulen, which does have negative back-of-lineout implications, the 103kg Carr is nevertheless a much faster and more skills-conscious athlete, so what the Stormers have lost on the swings they may just gain on the roundabout.
Coetzee is scheduled to name his team for the Rebels match on Wednesday (10:30 SA time), quite possibly with a starting loose trio made up of Kolisi and Don Armand on the flanks and Carr at No 8, although there is also the option of versatile Deon Fourie (if he passes a fitness test) giving up the hooker duty to Scarra Ntubeni and finding a place on the side of the scrum.
Fourie and Carr in the same, massively different-in-character new loosie combo?
Perhaps that would be pushing things a bit for daring by a currently conservative team ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing