Stormers look to bolster forward options
The DHL Stormers are looking to offset Andries Bekker’s departure for Japan by signing up Argentina test lock Manuel Carizza for the 2014 Vodacom Super Rugby season.
Bekker’s announcement earlier this year that he was going to Japan came eight months after the departure to Ireland of Quinn Roux, believed by some to be a Springbok in the making, and ahead of Eben Etzebeth in the second-row queue at Western Province until injury reshuffled the order.
Subsequent to that, WP have signed former MTN Golden Lions age-group star Ruan Botha, who has offset the departure of Roux by marking himself as a star of the future in the games he has played for the Province under-21 team this season.
Although he started the season late after battling with injury for much of the year, Botha has impressed coach John Dobson enough to suggest that he is a more than capable replacement for the departed Roux and himself a probable future Springbok.
But the loss of Bekker has left a shortage of experience in the second row. If you remember that while he has played a season and a half of international rugby now, Eben Etzebeth is still only in his second year of top rugby, which means that De Kock Steenkamp is the only lock on the WP books at the moment who has plenty of mileage in the tank and can thus teach the youngsters around him.
Bekker played a bit role in bringing through Etzebeth last year, but who will guide Botha or for that matter young Gerbrandt Grobler or the newcomer Taz Fuzani, who was outstanding on Currie Cup debut last weekend, if they are forced into Stormers action when Etzebeth and De Kock are absent.
The Stormers have had several experienced locks on their books in recent seasons, and it is to ensure that this continues, that coach Allister Coetzee is in the process of contracting Carizza.
According to the Cape Times, Coetzee has confirmed that he is in the process of talking to the 2.02m, 118 kg Carizza, who has played 36 test matches and who has played No 4 lock for the Pumas in this year’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship.
“We are definitely in the process of talking to Carizza. There are still a few things that need to be sorted out, such as work permits and things like that,” said Coetzee.
Coetzee said that he would be looking to Carizza to perform the same mentoring role that former All Black Chris Jack did when he played for WP a few seasons ago.
It is no secret that the Stormers are also on the look-out for a big wing to replace Bryan Habana.
Although Cheslin Kolbe has been brilliant for WP in the Currie Cup, there is understandable concern that at Super Rugby level, having two small players in the form of Gio Aplon and Kolbe in the same back three could be problematic, particularly when the Stormers come up against the big New Zealand and Australian wings.
Gerhard van den Heever, the only big wing in the current squad, will be following Habana overseas at the end of the Currie Cup, and while under-21 player Pat Howard is a sturdily built player who has played much of his rugby there, he is still green and is currently playing in the midfield for the WP junior side.
Damian de Allende made his debut for WP as a wing but lacks the sustained pace required for the position and is currently making massive progress as a centre, which is an area that is going to be the focus of interest when it comes to selection once Jean de Villiers returns to the mix from Springbok duty.
It was known that WP were negotiating with a strongly built Samoan wing but that fell through.
However the search continues and it is a positive that the union has recognised what was lost when the giant Fijian Sireli Naqelevuki left in 2010.
Although he did make mistakes that cost the Stormers at times, Naqelevuki also scored a lot of tries and was responsible for getting the team across the gainline, which was why when he was playing there was never the same concern at the lack of try-scoring prowess that there is now whenever the Stormers or WP take the field.
The concerns that WP fans may have had at scrum time, which begged the perennial question as to why no big names were being signed in the front row, look to have been alleviated now that the youngsters coming through are maturing.
Frans Malherbe, injured at the moment, is a young player who has already been part of Springbok squads, and it is often forgotten that although he is in his third year of top rugby, young loosehead Steven Kitshoff has only just turned 21.
Scarra Ntubeni, just 22, is making rapid progress as a hooker, and WP will be hoping that the more experienced Tiaan Liebenberg will be able to play a more complete role as the other hooker in next year's Super Rugby once he gets his back problems sorted out.