Stormers team has a great mix
Young lock Eben Etzebeth will make his Vodacom Super Rugby debut in a DHL Stormers team that has an excellent mix between youth and experience in Saturday’s tournament opener against the Hurricanes at Newlands.
Etzebeth, who was playing under-21 rugby last year, is the latest in a long line of recent age-group players who have made their Stormers or senior Western Province debut in the last year.
The nephew of former tough WP forward Cliffie Etzebeth joins flyhalf Gary van Aswegen, No8 Nick Koster and prop Steven Kitshoff among the group of players who were part of the WP under-21 team that won the national tournament two years ago. Other members of that team that have also graduated to Super Rugby level include Stormers reserve prop Frans Malherbe, reserve scrumhalf Louis Schreuder, wing Danie Poolman who is not playing this week, reserve hooker Scarra Ntubeni and reserve flanker Siya Kolisi.
And you can add to that group the Bulls duo of Johann Sadie and JJ Engelbrecht, who served an apprenticeship in the WP under-21 side before playing for WP and the Stormers prior to their departure to Pretoria at the end of last year.
Etzebeth wins his place because of the injury to another young star, Rynhardt Elstadt, who coach Allister Coetzee expects to see back in the Stormers mix for next week’s match against the Sharks. However the well built Etzebeth has been impressive enough in the pre-season games to suggest he might make a full fist of this opportunity.
“Eben is a young player who has come through and earned the right to prove to us that he has the necessary abrasiveness to play at Super Rugby level,” said Stormers captain Schalk Burger at the team announcement press conference.
“Most of the young players in our group have been part of our system for a while and this is a chance for them to show what they can do.”
There is plenty of talent in the team, but the most pleasing aspect of the selection from the viewpoint of coach Allister Coetzee is the way almost every combination has a mixture of a young player coming through and other more experienced players there to guide them. There is a lot of experience among the outside backs, with the only newcomer there to the Stormers being wing Gerhard van den Heever, who has played a lot of Super Rugby for his previous franchise, the Bulls.
But from Nos 1 through to 10 there are mixed combinations – 20 year-old Kitshoff is joined by hardebaarde Tiaan Liebenberg and Brok Harris in the front-row, Etzebeth has Andries Bekker there to help him, while Koster, who has anyway been playing senior rugby since he was 18, is teamed up with Burger and Duane Vermeulen. Van Aswegen will have the experienced Dewaldt Duvenage as his halfback partner.
“It is important that we have that mix, but what is as crucial is the spine of the team, going from No2 through No8 to fullback, and there you will see we have very experienced players,” said Coetzee.
The coach said that the return to full fitness of Duvenage was timely.
“Dewies means a lot to us and he has the experience to help make Gary feel more settled at flyhalf,” said Coetzee.
“I am pleased with the progress that Gary (van Aswegen) has made and he looks really well conditioned and a lot stronger than he looked this time last year.”
Van Aswegen made a solid debut at the start of the 2011 campaign but ended up missing much of the season through injury. The Stormers will be holding thumbs that he can produce the sort of performance that will place pressure on first choice flyhalf Peter Grant when he comes back from Japan.
Stormers team: Joe Pietersen, Gerhard van den Heever, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers, Gio Aplon, Gary van Aswegen, Dewaldt Duvenage, Nick Koster, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger (captain), Andries Bekker, Eben Etzebeth, Brok Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg, Steven Kitshoff.
Reserves: Scarra Ntubeni, Frans Malherbe, De Kock Steenkamp, Siya Kolisi, Louis Schreuder, Burton Francis, Marcel Brache.