Schalk could fill Duane void

    2015-06-15 18:45

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - The considerably talented Nizaam Carr probably shapes up as likeliest occupant of the Stormers’ No 8 jersey now that captain Duane Vermeulen has been inconveniently ruled out of their Super Rugby “quarter-final” against the Brumbies at Newlands on Saturday.

    Allister Coetzee has long made it clear that he regards “Nemo” as the main back-up to Springbok iron man Vermeulen in the role, and tends to trust his pecking orders in most positions.

    But if the head coach doesn’t want to depart too much from the notably physical playing style of his absentee leader in the slot, then he may be tempted to at least chew on the possibility of a more like-for-like replacement for the critical date against the Aussie side.

    That man is a certain Schalk Burger, an even more street-wise international loose forward than Vermeulen and another who hates taking backward steps in the heat of combat.

    The tireless veteran, if anything, actually plays increasingly in the style of a multi-dimensional No 8, given the addition to his repertoire in recent times of subtle hand skills to go with his more direct, rugged qualities.

    At the start of 2014, Burger confirmed to Sport24 that he was “not hell-bent on a particular shirt” and willing to aid the cause in any of the loose forward positions if required.

    As much as having a player of the emerging calibre of Carr as an attractive option at No 8 is a comfort to the Newlands-based franchise – he led their “dirt-trackers” from there in the academic game against the Sharks on Saturday – he is a very different type of animal to Vermeulen both in tale-of-the-tape and playing-style terms.

    Carr’s big strength is in fluid, open play, where he is mobile and rangy, and loves a linking role in attacking moves. It is in keeping with his height and weight difference to the mountainous, close quarters-relishing regular skipper: 103kg and 1.84m, versus Vermeulen’s 116kg and 1.93m.

    But are the Stormers going to depart too much from their mostly conservative playing style for this high-stakes, KO affair? You rather suspect not.

    And that is why Coetzee may find it worth at least contemplating stationing Burger at No 8 in an alliance with Siya Kolisi (open side) and Michael Rhodes on the blindside flank if he feels the route to victory is via tight, hard-earned yards.

    Playing the fit-again Rhodes, one of those No 7s who can easily double as a four lock, helps both to retain a general theme of muscularity in the pack and add a good lineout option.

    Carr will always be a good game-breaking option as a substitute in any team, although that is not to wish to pigeon-hole him as some sort of perennial “supersub”; he is way better than that.

    It is just that Burger (114kg, 1.93m) may yet be the correct horse for Saturday’s course in the eighth-man role, given the hole that needs filling.

    After all, the Brumbies should employ the formidable Tongan Ita Vaea, who tips the scales at 119kg, as their No 8 at Newlands, and if the going happens to be heavy – though early weather forecasts suggest a dry day – specimens like that can be invaluable.

    Coetzee has not yet said for certain that Carr will start, and said at Monday’s media briefing that he is “pleased with Nemo’s getting back to form”.

    In some ways, that may be viewed as recognition that the former UCT and Baby Bok maestro hasn’t yet matched, in 2015, his amazing zest of last year that saw him earn deserved, maiden Test caps off the bench on the Springbok end-of-year tour.

    He began this season hampered by the after-effects of a pre-season illness, and has not yet had a genuine blinder for the Stormers, even if you always feel it may be lurking dangerously just around the corner.

    I am not suggesting for a minute that Carr would be the wrong selection at No 8 against the Brumbies; he may well turn out to make an important difference with his “footballing” skills and stealth and is probably still the favourite.

    But it would also surprise me if Coetzee doesn’t at least mull over a different formula for the task at hand.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  stormers super 15 cape town rugby

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