Interesting dilemma for Stormers coach
DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee got what he asked for when his team’s Super Rugby derby win over the Vodacom Bulls gave them the momentum they needed ahead of the long flight out to Dunedin for the start of their overseas tour.
Cape Town to Dunedin is the longest trip you can undertake for any Sanzar sanctioned match – well if you rule out Invercargill, which is occasionally used as the Highlanders’ alternative home venue – and Coetzee was fully aware of what a massive undertaking it would be as he built up for the Bulls game.
“We’re playing the Bulls this week and you know how physical that will be, and then we are spending much of the week travelling, so the turn-around between the Bulls game and the one against the Highlanders is just going to be about recovery,” said Coetzee.
“The Highlanders game is one we are going to have to go into on the base of what we have done this week (before Bulls). We will only have time for one or two sessions, and they are going to have to be flush out sessions after the long flight. Then of course there is the jetlag factor that we will have to work through.”
Apart from assuring themselves of some momentum to carry them through the 10 time zones (the New Zealand clocks went back an hour earlier this week), the Bulls win also built the Stormers a bit of a platform and eased some of the pressure ahead of a tour that includes matches against the Crusaders, Reds and the Western Force after they have finished with Dunedin.
The Cape team are only four log points ahead of the Bulls because of the Pretoria team’s haul of both four try and losing bonus points (two of each), but the Bulls also have some tough matches to come, and no South African team has ever gone through an entire overseas leg of Super Rugby unbeaten.
So with the travel and the Bulls match likely to be such a factor, isn’t this time for Coetzee to make use of the depth that is available to him by rotating selections and giving some players a rest? Andries Bekker said at the start of the season that he hoped to be used sparingly this year, so sooner or later we can expect to see him play off the bench, with perhaps Eben Etzebeth moving to No 5 to accommodate the giant Rynhardt Elstadt at front lock.
Elstadt looked a little out of place at times as a flank against the Bulls, and Coetzee, who said the selection for the Bulls game was horses for courses, is unlikely to continue with him there against the more mobile Highlanders. Elstadt, after sitting out the early season with injury, may be owed a start as much as Bekker is probably owed a rest.
Duane Vermeulen looks more at home and is more influential as a No 8 than on the blindside flank, but by the same token Nick Koster has been playing well and could be due for a recall, with the back row configuration returning to what it was before the Bulls game (Koster at No 8, Vermuelen and Siya Kolisi on the flanks).
There have been calls for Coetzee to try Frans Malherbe as a starting prop instead of only as a reserve, with the 20-year-old having made a massive contribution to the Stormers gear shift that has enabled them to win several matches in the last quarter. Hooker Deon Fourie is fit again and can be effectively alternated with Tiaan Liebenberg, who was excellent against the Bulls and completely overshadowed Chiliboy Ralepelle, as was the case last year.
Former Sharks Springbok Deon Carstens has also recovered from his injury problems and is on tour with the Stormers. Steven Kitshoff has started every game so far and so he should because of the form he is in, but Carstens might be due for at least a bench role so that the back-up looshead can get some game time.
One thing that Coetzee said before he left South Africa that few would argue with is that he should be confident in the back-up.
“I think we have reached a stage now where any player can get injured and I will have confidence in the player who comes in to replace him,” said Coetzee.
Indeed, and that includes lock, where a season ago Bekker was considered indispensible, and obviously flank too, where Schalk Burger is hardly being missed due to the way that Kolisi has adapted to top level rugby.