Now Coetzee is digging really deep
The front-row will be the only forward combination that should remain untouched and unchanged when the DHL Stormers team is named later on Wednesday for Saturday’s final Vodacom Super Rugby tour match against the Western Force in Perth.
What had been looking like one of those games where the coaches have to warn against complacency as the Stormers pop into the fast food pit-stop of the Sanzar southern hemisphere rugby highway in search of the win that will make the tour a successful one, is suddenly looking a tricky proposition after a slew of injuries.
The Stormers were already depleted last week when they played well to beat the Super Rugby champions, the Reds, in Brisbane. But while Andries Bekker should return to the side to captain it after missing out to a lower back complaint last week, Nick Koster on Tuesday joined Duane Vermeulen, Gio Aplon and probably Eben Etzebeth in missing the Perth match.
That is on top of the players that were already missing last week, so Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, who has always had a practical approach to injuries and says they are part of the game, must feel that he is having to dig even deeper than he anticipated when the Stormers started the tour with pretty much a full strength squad. Regular captain Schalk Burger, who has been out since being injured in the first match, was the only absentee.
Last year the Stormers experienced an injury crisis at a similar stage of the competition, but most of the problems came in one position – flyhalf. This time the injuries are coming across the board, and are starting to seriously test the Stormers depth.
However Coetzee and his coaches have always expressed confidence that they can suffer injuries in every position and it not be too much a disruption. There is good reason for that confidence – they adopted a policy in last year’s Currie Cup season of pushing the youngsters and back-up players and although injuries in that competition eventually took a heavy toll, there were several under-21 players who made a successful step up to senior rugby. While the policy prevented the WP under-21 team from winning their competition, which they looked like doing at the start of the season, it has had a positive impact on the Stormers.
One of those young players who made an impact is Nizaam Carr, the player likely to replace Koster at No 8 (well he replaces Koster, who was to replace Vermeulen) for the Force game. A former Bishops schoolboy, Carr was a member of one of the Western Province Rugby Institute’s most talented intakes, as among the other students in the year he was there were Frans Malherbe, Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi.
The latter suddenly finds himself as one of the senior players in the newlook Stormers pack, but Carr has shown his potential in his appearances off the bench this season and if the Stormers get through the Force game with a win Coetzee will find himself having ticked another box.
It’s been a great season so far when it comes to ticking boxes for new players coming through, and both the Stormers and the Bulls are doing a great job of flooding South African rugby with new talent. With the Western Province team comfortably on top of their section in the Vodacom Cup and unbeaten, there is certainly no sign of the disaster that was feared when a whole tier of players – the likes of JJ Engelbrecht, Johan Sadie, Lionel Cronje, Conrad Jantjes, Tim Whitehead etc – left the union in the off-season.
But every week the challenge appears to become tougher, and the Stormers team that starts on Saturday should have a completely rejigged second row and back row on top of the changes that were made last week.
Etzebeth is still with the squad in Australia but was given until the last possible opportunity to recover from the shoulder injury that has been troubling him recently, an indication that the chances of him starting the game aren’t great.
Probable Stormers team: Joe Pietersen, Gerhard van den Heever, Bryan Habana, Juan de Jongh, Danie Poolman, Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage, Nizaam Carr, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Brok Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg, Steven Kitshoff.