Johannesburg - Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is set to answer one of the off-season talking points to have pre-occupied Cape rugby followers when he names his captain for the Vodacom Super Rugby campaign at a press conference in Hawston near Hermanus on Wednesday.
According to the supersport.com website, with the excellent leadership abilities of Springbok captain Jean de Villiers in the mix and with the centre having led the Stormers well over the past two seasons, you may well ask why there should be any question over the captaincy. Surely he should be an automatic choice?
However it is not a done deal as it is understood that De Villiers, now that he has been foisted with the responsibilities of leading the Boks, would appreciate a break from the leadership role. Indeed, it is believed to have been one of the factors that led to Coetzee naming Schalk Burger as the team leader at the corresponding stage of the 2013 season.
Coetzee, like Rassie Erasmus before him, has never been shy to name Burger as his captain whenever the big blonde flanker has been available to do the job, but the chances of him doing that again on Wednesday would depend on the progress that Burger has made on his conditioning and match readiness during the off-season.
Burger ended up missing the entire 2013 Super Rugby season after a series of injuries and then illness ruled him out. He only made his first appearance on the playing field after an 18 month break – he had been out since being injured in the opening match of the 2012 season against the Hurricanes – in the latter part of the last Currie Cup season.
He only played a bit part in the matches he was involved in, and at the end of the rugby playing year he would himself have acknowledged that he was still a long way from where he needs to be if he wants to be his old influential self on the field. As he was in ICU and fighting for his life after contracting meningitis last Easter, just that he was playing again at all was a massive step forward.
Will Coetzee again entrust Burger with the captaincy when he hasn’t started a first class match in South Africa since February 2012 and needs to re-establish himself? It would be a gamble but then Coetzee also does know that he has a strong core leadership group to back Burger up in the form of De Villiers, Deon Fourie, Duane Vermeulen and the fit again Tiaan Liebenberg. Scarra Ntubeni also has leadership potential and although still young is viewed as a possible future captain.
Although Bok No8 Vermeulen would be a strong candidate, indications from the camp are that the captain named on Wednesday will be one of De Villiers, Burger or Fourie. The last mentioned led Western Province to victory in the 2012 Currie Cup and then was at the helm again when they went through the 2013 domestic season unbeaten before being beaten by the Sharks in the decider.
There have been sources around the camp who have indicated though that Fourie is reluctant to lead this year as he feels the captaincy impacts on his game – though that is certainly not the impression that has been gained from those who have watched him play over the past two seasons and since he has made the switch to openside flank.
The one drawback to having Fourie as leader would be that when, or if, Burger is back to his best, and with Siya Kolisi and Vermeulen back from Springbok duty, it will be difficult to accommodate him in the first choice back row. Liebenberg and Ntubeni also stand in the way of him being a certain choice as first choice hooker.
Coetzee has a 38-man squad busy preparing for the new season at the pre-season camp. The players are based at Hermanus but train in Hawston. Apart from Boks such as Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jaco Taute, De Villiers, Vermeulen, Burger, Kolisi, Pat Cilliers, Frans Malherbe and Liebenberg, Argentina lock Manuel Carizza boosts the international complement. Utility back Scott van Breda, on loan from the Southern Kings, is the only other newcomer from outside the region.
As has been the case over the past few years, the Stormers have a healthy smattering of youngsters at the camp and it will be interesting to see which of them can do what Eben Etzebeth did at the 2012 camp by forcing their way into consideration for Super Rugby. Etzebeth is not at this camp as the foot injury sustained playing for the Boks in Paris last November will keep him sidelined until April.
STORMERS SQUAD: Gio Aplon, Ruan Botha, Schalk Burger, Manuel Carizza, Nizaam Carr, Demetri Catrakilis, Pat Cilliers, Kurt Coleman, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh, Ryno Eksteen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Deon Fourie, Tazz Fuzani, Nic Groom, Brok Harris, Pat Howard, Cheslin Kolbe, Oli Kebble, Steven Kitshoff, Jean Kleyn, Siya Kolisi, Tiaan Liebenberg, Frans Malherbe, Godlen Masimla, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Scarra Ntubeni, Michael Rhodes, Louis Schreuder, De Kock Steenkamp, Jaco Taute, Gary van Aswegen, Scott van Breda, Michael van der Spuy, Kobus van Wyk, Alistair Vermaak, Duane Vermeulen.