Louw unlikely to link with Stormers
The Bulls have passed them in the battle for Vodacom Super Rugby conference supremacy and it has been confirmed that Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger and Nick Koster will play no part until July, but the Stormers will come back from their bye in a calm and confident mood.
Negotiations are continuing with Bath over acquiring the possible services of former Stormers flank Francois Louw for the duration of the next segment of the competition, which ends with the start of the June window for international rugby in the second week of June.
“Nothing has been confirmed as yet, I can promise you that, but I can confirm that we have made an approach and are expecting to hear back from Bath shortly. It will have to be soon because we play the Cheetahs on Saturday,” said coach Allister Coetzee.
“Our initial request is for Francois to play the next four matches on loan, and then we will take it from there depending on where we stand with the loose-forward situation. Schalk is expected to play the first game after the June break (against the Lions), and Nick is also expected back then. It is only Duane who might come back a few weeks after that.”
However sources close to the Stormers say it is unlikely that Louw will be making the move back and it seems the approaches have fallen flat over the weekend. That, though, doesn’t mean that Coetzee feels there is any need to panic.
“We are in a situation where we could find ourselves bolstered by returning star players for the last segment of the competition, so it is important that we create a solid platform now by winning our next few matches, starting with the Cheetahs. We know how difficult they can be and they have been playing well, so we will have full focus on them this week.”
Coetzee is right to be taking the challenge of the Cheetahs seriously, as they are the one team to have beaten the Stormers this season.
Admittedly it was a second-string Stormers team that lost to the full-strength Cheetahs in a pre-season friendly, but nonetheless, the Cheetahs have tasted recent success at the Stormers’ supposed fortress.
RETURN OF INJURED PLAYERS
The good news for the Stormers is that while they will be without their star loose-forwards, they will have all their other recently injured players back, with Jean de Villiers set to lead the side after getting over the wrist injury that prevented him from playing in the last two matches on tour.
Eben Etzebeth, who missed the last match against the Western Force, will also be back in the frame, as will Gio Aplon.
“Andries Bekker is also 100% fit after complaining of a lower back concern against the Force, so we shouldn’t have too many injury concerns this week,” said Coetzee.
“The assessments of the various specialists who looked at Duane, Schalk and Nick have been studied by all our medical staff, and none of them will be back before Super Rugby takes a break in June. So we will be without them for the next four games. However the good news is that Schalk is feeling a lot better now than he was before we went on tour and he appears to be responding to rehab.”
The absence of those key players and the knowledge they will be back when the next phase starts ups the ante a bit for the Stormers as they start a four-match sequence that includes home matches against the Cheetahs and the Waratahs before two tough away derbies against the Sharks and the Bulls.
“Those last two games are going to be massive and we will want to be in a good position going into them, so we can’t afford to take the Cheetahs lightly. Its usual story in Super Rugby – it’s just very tough, there is no let-up.”
The Bulls’ four-try bonus-point win over the Rebels in Melbourne at the start of their overseas tour means that the Stormers’ position at the top of the South African conference has been usurped for the first time since the second week of the season.
But Coetzee says he is not concerned about the one-point lead the Bulls enjoy with seven matches to play.
“If you start looking at the log and worrying about it now, you land yourself in trouble. The Bulls and ourselves are in different stages of our respective campaigns – we have toured while they are just starting their tour. My philosophy has always been that if we just keep winning, log position will take care of itself and that hasn’t changed. Our priority now is to just beat the Cheetahs next weekend.”