Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Life
without Eben Etzebeth ... it is going to be a strange feeling, at least
initially, for the Stormers this year.
lock enforcer with those demonic eyes when someone is brave (foolhardy?) enough
to poke the bear had been part of the Newlands furniture at Super Rugby level
between 2012 and 2019.
eight-season tenure for this undoubtedly blue-chip player: you have to label
that pretty good going for a franchise that has been mired in financial woe for
So it was
almost inevitable that arguably one of the most sought-after players on the
global scene would eventually be snapped up by an entirely richer overseas
outfit - in his case the serious bigwigs of Toulon.
one small comfort over Etzebeth’s departure - many other SA sides in Super
Rugby face regrowth challenges after mass exoduses of players abroad, sadly -
for John Dobson’s charges is that they have often enough had to go long periods
without him in the second row anyway.
The way the
cookie has crumbled over several years has been that whenever Etzebeth, now 28,
has gone weeks or months on the injured list, it’s been more often than not during
the Super Rugby phase of the season.
He has had a
much clearer run in national colours ... going a long way to explaining his
superior tally of Test caps (85), since his twin Super Rugby and Test debut
season of 2012, to ones for the Stormers.
just having Etzebeth on their books and often enough demonstrating his robust,
combative qualities for them in a No 4 jersey was a major fillip for the
Stormers in an era stretching back to Allister Coetzee’s usually win-heavy
tenure as head coach.
He is the
type of lock who instinctively hates taking a backward step, and who famously
announced himself on the first-class scene, despite his callowness at the time,
with that YouTube-popular trampling of juggernaut Bok hooker and Sharks
favourite Bismarck du Plessis while carrying the ball fiercely in a Newlands
There is the
reasonable comfort of knowing that the Capetonians, even with the enormous
Etzebeth void this season, still boast reasonably good depth and quality in the
second row with JD Schickerling, Salmaan Moerat and Chris van Zyl front of mind
as options and adaptable characters (scope at both loose forward and lock) like
Cobus Wiese and Ernst van Rhyn too.
end of their largely fruitless 2019 season, the Stormers also revealed a
surprise package when their resources were stretched in the shape of lean but
spring-heeled young David Meihuizen.
24-year-old, Calvinia-born Schickerling is still believed to be high on the
radar of World Cup-winning Bok coach and now more specifically director of
rugby Rassie Erasmus as a future Bok regular, although he has already had a few
major injury scares.
same applies to Moerat, the former SA Schools captain, whose earliest
first-class experience has been quite lukewarm although big things will be
hoped of the soon to be 22-year-old if he has an uninterrupted 2020 campaign;
he is a natural “front” lock and has the physical proportions to do the sort of
chores Etzebeth prided himself on.
But all this
still leaves an inescapable thought, maybe even one that new head coach Dobson
shares: the best lock at Newlands (and frankly at either four or five) may well
currently be World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit.
that despite his choice for that distinguished global mantle on the grounds of
his consistently stirring performances for the Boks at RWC 2019 in Japan as
converted, now largely fulltime blindside flank.
Du Toit understandably
now wishes to specialise in a berth he has worked so hard and brilliantly to
master the skills of after a tough initial period in his transition from a
highly-regarded second row factor; remember that he had already won numerous
international caps as a lock before the switch.
from the outset of Super Rugby 2020 (the Stormers open on February 1 with a
crackerjack home date with the Hurricanes) it seems massively likely that the
unobtrusive Swartlander, a willing team man, will wear No 7 and share Stormers side-of-scrum
duty with his Test colleague and captain Siya Kolisi.
want to keep prize asset Du Toit happy, and that contentedness clearly will be
as a flanker.
things could get interesting is the bend in the road where, at some point in the
always arduous campaign, lock staffing potentially becomes problematic through
injury or fatigue.
It is then
that Dobson may well be sparked into talking nicely, as it were, to Du Toit
about the possibility of agreeing to help out again in the heat of the tight
five - remember that the franchise have a relative abundance of loosies.
While he has
tended to be preferred in a No 5 capacity, former Bok coach Heyneke Meyer is
just one good judge who always believed Du Toit could double as a front-lock
toughie; he ticks plenty of the boxes, not least his own under-rated mongrel
even as red mist is not really his customary hallmark.
player’s reputation, it would be a surprise if he put his foot down and said an
intransigent “thanks, but no thanks” if implored to aid the lock department in
is stationed for the Stormers, and it will primarily be at No 7, Du Toit
is going to be a key figure, requiring deft management in his workload …
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