Head-scratcher for Coetzee

    2013-02-10 12:17

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - Stormers coach Allister Coetzee will already be mulling over how to rebalance his team in the event that blue-chip tight forward Eben Etzebeth is declared a non-starter for the Super Rugby opener against the Bulls at Loftus in less than a fortnight.

    At the time of writing, it was not yet known whether Etzebeth’s first-quarter ankle injury in the friendly encounter with Boland Cavaliers on Saturday had been found serious enough to rule him out of the big north-south derby on Friday, February 22.

    The young, imposing Springbok lock hobbled off after an awkward landing from a lineout leap, in an encounter the Stormers eventually won 57-0 - they exhibited both sprightly aspects and lingering hints of rust as they whipped their rather pauper-like neighbours at Cape Town Stadium.

    VIDEO: Stormers v Boland Cavaliers highlights

    Given the Stormers’ mostly enviable squad depth in 2013, Coetzee and his lieutenants will not be short of replacement options for the Pretoria showdown: it is more a question of ensuring that the pack is reshaped in the correct way in the possible absence of Etzebeth.

    Somebody like the honest, reliable - if not quite world-beating - De Kock Steenkamp could simply be drafted into the No 4 jersey as Andries Bekker’s second-row partner, although that would really be a less-than-ideal alliance of two customers who are both better suited to No 5 than as “enforcers” in the other shirt.

    That would leave intact the initially expected loose forward combination for the clash with the Bulls: Siya Kolisi on the open-side, versatile Rynhardt Elstadt at No 7 and Springbok incumbent Duane Vermeulen at No 8, where he faces an enthralling scrap with fit-again Pierre Spies.

    Considering the lingering uncertainty over players like captain Schalk Burger and Michael Rhodes through injuries of their own, that had seemed the Stormers’ starting trio for Loftus.

    But the best option for Coetzee - and he has reportedly already dropped heavy hints that this is the route he would take - would probably be to ask Elstadt, who looked sharp and hungry in the first half against Boland at No 7, to revisit a lock partnership with Bekker that had been consistently effective two seasons ago before Etzebeth burst onto the scene.

    Shifting Elstadt to the second row, where he undoubtedly has the required “mongrel” for No 4, might also afford the Stormers, who are clearly wishing to up their try-scoring potential this season, the opportunity to introduce a speedy, skilful, low-centre-of-gravity customer to the loose trio.

    First among such candidates would be Deon Fourie, who started in his most customary position of hooker against Boland but had only confirmed for extended periods of the WP Currie Cup-winning campaign in 2012 how suited he is to a fetcher’s slot among the loosies.

    Fourie was typically active and vigorous in open play on Saturday, although he did err with a few lineout throws and when temporary recruit Martin Bezuidenhout from the Lions got some decent game-time in the middle of the front row as Fourie switched to the side of the scrum, he ticked a lot of boxes.

    The 23-year-old from Orkney certainly looked as though he would be capable of serving the cause with some aplomb in Pretoria, should Fourie indeed move to six.

    Still another option for the Stormers could involve the dynamic, tearaway Nizaam Carr, a former SA U20 star, being promoted to the side of the scrum to leave Fourie the designated starter at hooker.

    But Carr is feeling his way back from a serious knee injury last year and at this stage perhaps offers best potential in a burst off the bench, where his X-factor could come in handy as the contest develops against the Bulls.

    Don Armand is another industrious, lock-loosie “crossover” player who contributes to the Stormers’ blossoming depth.

    First prize for the Stormers, however, would quite obviously be a medical report that Etzebeth will be back running again surprisingly quickly ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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