Cape Town – By letting Ruan Botha go to the Sharks, the Stormers
have dangerously depleted their stocks at No 5 lock ... and simultaneously
enhanced the prospect that their coastal arch-rivals assemble a formidable
starting second row.
It might be argued that the lanky 23-year-old going the
other way in the last few days is simply a “trade” for Springbok Pieter-Steph
du Toit – a title-winning colleague of Botha’s at the home-staged 2012 IRB
Junior World Championship -- heading back to the Cape after some four years at
Kings Park, a switch that has already been known about for some time.
There are often good reasons for sporting transfers that
don’t always escape into the public space, so that possibly shouldn’t be
discounted in Botha’s instance. It may well have been “mutually beneficial” for
Botha to move on from Newlands before reaching his likely maximum potential.
But Stormers enthusiasts would nevertheless be entitled to feel
both a semblance of regret and concern that the No 5 specialist has gone to a
Sharks franchise desperate to rise anew from their relative doldrums.
Already boasting such second-row characters as the
mountainous Giant Mtyanda and similarly robust utility forward Etienne
Oosthuizen, Botha deepens their stocks considerably and may well find himself,
all going well, invitingly paired in their Super Rugby starting XV with Stephan
Lewies once the last-named player has recovered fully from a knee injury – the
word from Durban is that he is on track to begin the campaign in late February.
Lewies was just beginning to make a major name for himself before
he dislocated a knee cap against the Reds in May last season, including having
earned a maiden Bok cap as a substitute against Scotland in a 55-6 victory in
Port Elizabeth less than a year earlier.
When the Sharks first tackle the Stormers in 2016 (Newlands,
March 12), there could be a serious showcasing of four of the best lock talents
in the country assuming that Lewies and Botha get to grips with Du Toit and
The Pretoria-born Lewies was initially schooled as a “five”
lock given his rangy athleticism, but when paired with veteran Marco Wentzel
(now released by the Sharks) and asked to do duty at No 4 for part of last
season, he showed the necessary grunt – added to his other skills -- to suggest
he could blossom in that role going forward.
But the other thing the Botha exit last week did was leave
the Stormers arguably with a lopsided look to their lock cupboard – well-stocked
at No 4 but more vulnerable at five if new signing Du Toit (already victim of
two serious knee injuries, remember) were to suffer further medical mishap.
Botha would have competed spiritedly with Du Toit next
season for the No 5 shirt, but right now the Stormers seem better-equipped for
any injury-related problems in the traditional No 4 “enforcer” role than for the
other locking berth.
Should Bok gem Etzebeth get injured or have the benefit of a
rotational break from time to time in a long, remodelled Super Rugby season,
sprightly Jean Kleyn, 22, is the perfect fit for his shoes.
As a third option as “front” lock, there are always the
claims of versatile hard man Rynhardt Elstadt: not too many years ago the
flanker teamed up effectively with Andries Bekker in the Stormers second row.
But it is at five that the franchise could suddenly be
sweating a bit if they cannot call on Du Toit for any reason.
Before releasing Botha to the Sharks, the Stormers had also
surrendered the services of Manuel Carizza, the 31-year-old Argentinean journeyman
who at least offered abundant first-class experience in the jersey, and another
useful utility pack member in Michael Rhodes.
Now Saracens-based, Rhodes has previously operated for the
Stormers/WP with some aplomb in both second-row positions, apart from his more
traditional spot at blindside flank.
There may just be the off-chance, bearing in mind the No 5
limitations if Du Toit were to be absent, that they will have to contemplate
switching the magnificent specimen that is Etzebeth – brawny, but also blessed
with fine mobility – to that responsibility.
He has worn the five jersey previously at age-group level,
and there is widespread acknowledgement that he possesses the attributes to be
more versatile; his fierce All Black rival Brodie Retallick is just one No 4
beast able to make the transition pretty seamlessly.
The No 5-wearer is most commonly entrusted with the lineout
management, and after five seasons now at first-class level, maybe the time has
come anyway to begin empowering Etzebeth with those calls when the need may
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