Stormers head for tour feeling confident
The simultaneous return to fitness of several top players coupled with the recent derby win over the Sharks will see the DHL Stormers leave on their Vodacom Super Rugby tour of New Zealand and Australia on Saturday in a confident mood.
The Stormers fly out to Auckland on Saturday evening, and they will be based in the north island’s biggest city for the duration of their stay in New Zealand, with coach Allister Coetzee opting to fly into Palmerston North for next Friday’s match against the Hurricanes rather than base the squad in the agricultural town.
Players who have been injured and will be available for next week’s match include flanker Rynhardt Elstadt, hooker Scarra Ntubeni and wing Bryan Habana, the latter having made a really impressive and quick recovery from a ligament injury that threatened to truncate his last season in Stormers colours.
Back for the second match of the tour will be Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth and flyhalf Elton Jantjies.
“With Eben and Elton I would say that it is a 60% chance against 40% that they will be ready to play against the Hurricanes, but with those other players it is a 100% chance. In other words, they will be available for selection,” said Coetzee after the squad’s final training session before departure at the High Performance Centre in Bellville on Friday.
“It is good to have these players back and to have options available to us after the players who faced the Sharks did so well for us last week. It has been tough dealing with the injuries, and we note that we are not the only franchise that has the problem, but as I’ve always said, you just have to focus during an injury crisis on the players that you do have available,” he added.
Given how much more comfortable in their playing pattern the Stormers appeared with the less flamboyant Gary van Aswegen at flyhalf, Coetzee will face an interesting choice at No 10 when the Stormers face the Blues in their second tour game.
Michael Rhodes’ excellent man-of-the-match performance against the Sharks last Saturday also means it is no foregone conclusion that the impressive and combative Elstadt will just walk straight back into the starting team.
But then, as the Stormers coach reminded the media on Friday, the Stormers do have a couple of different options with these players.
“I don’t think it is a risk to take Eben Etzebeth on tour without seeing him play a Vodacom Cup game because you have to decide what is better – play him in a game for Western Province, or ease him back by giving him 20 minutes or so in a Super Rugby match. I am comfortable with Eben’s ability to slot straight back in at this level and he has been training with sufficient intensity during the latter part of his rehab.
“But if Eben wasn’t ready, we do have other options at lock, and both Rhodes and Elstadt can do a good job there if they are required to.”
The utility value of Rhodes and Elstadt accounts for the absence of Gerbrand Grobler, who played as a replacement lock for the Stormers in their last two matches, from the touring squad. It also enables Coetzee to give Don Armand maximum time to get over his rib injury before being asked to play again.
“Don and Gerhard van den Heever are both starting to train again but won’t be quite ready to play just yet. It is good to know though that should we need them when we are on tour, we will be able to call on them,” said Coetzee.
The rest of the Stormers’ injured list includes Peter Grant, who will be back after the tour, and ditto hooker Tiaan Liebenberg.
Jaco Taute, the Springbok fullback who arrived in Cape Town in the off-season on loan from the Golden Lions, is out for the season with a knee ligament injury while squad captain Schalk Burger is going to require considerable time to get over the effects of his recent battle with bacterial meningitis that forced him to be hospitalised for two weeks.
STORMERS TOUR SQUAD: Gio Aplon, Joe Pietersen, Bryan Habana, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers (captain), Elton Jantjies, Gary van Aswegen, Dewaldt Duvenage, Louis Schreuder, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen, Nizaam Carr, Michael Rhodes, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Eben Etzebeth, Pat Cilliers, Frans Malherbe, Brok Harris, Steven Kitshoff, Martin Bezuidenhout, Deon Fourie, Scarra Ntubeni.