Another big blow for the Stormers
The need for speedy returns from injury for team leaders Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers became more important for the DHL Stormers at the weekend when it was confirmed that Duane Vermeulen is headed back to South Africa with a leg injury.
The No 8 has frequently sat out training sessions this year to protect his knee (he underwent a serious operation at the end of the last Super Rugby season that kept him out for the rest of the year) and it is not clear if that is the concern that has forced him to return from Australia.
He didn’t show any signs of discomfort when he led the team to an impressive 23-13 away win over the champion Reds in Brisbane on Friday.
Coach Allister Coetzee also never listed Vermeulen as an injury concern when he was asked about the condition of his players during a telephone interview with Supersport.com after the game.
However, Vermeulen has been ruled out of the final tour match against the Western Force in Perth, and it has been reported that he could even be out of the game until July.
If so, that would be a big personal blow as he has frequently been ruled out of the Springbok equation by untimely injuries, such as in Peter de Villiers’ first season as national coach in 2008 when he was called up for the first training camp and then had to cry off.
He was also in the running for a place in the World Cup squad when he injured his knee in the final Super Rugby league match against the Cheetahs in 2011.
Nick Koster, who was in fair form before being replaced to accommodate the bulk of Rynhardt Elstadt in the loose trio before the derby against the Vodacom Bulls, should replace Vermeulen for the Force match.
However, the loss of Vermeulen does significantly impact on the balance of the team, and if he is going to be out long term, it makes it more imperative that the physical presence of Burger is returned to the combination sooner rather than later.
At this stage it is unclear when Burger will be back, and he said at a function last week that he had just started walking. The Stormers are hoping though that they may be able to play him off the bench in the home derby against the Toyota Cheetahs at Newlands on 12 May.
Also out of the Force game is Springbok wing Gio Aplon, who came off the field with a hamstring problem against the Reds. Coetzee initially thought it might be cramp but it is understood that it is more serious than that so another re-jig to the backline might be on the cards for Perth.
The options that Coetzee has include returning Bryan Habana to left wing to accommodate JP du Plessis at outside centre, or bring Danie Poolman in on the wing as a straight swop for Aplon.
The good news for the Stormers is that Andries Bekker is definitely available to play against the Force and should slot into the captaincy in the absence of Vermeulen.