Bekker blow for Boks and Stormers
Both Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer and his Stormers counterpart Allister Coetzee would have been reeling on Wednesday from the confirmation that Andries Bekker has been ruled out of rugby for a minimum of five weeks with a recurring back complaint.
Bekker has been struggling for form just recently, but the word has been that he has not been 100%, with his frequent grimacing suggesting that he was playing with a sore body.
On Wednesday what Meyer feared when he first approached Victor Matfield to come out of retirement to play for the Boks against England, was realised, with the more than two-metre tall Stormers lighthouse being ruled out of the series.
Of course that also means Bekker misses the Stormers’ massively important Super Rugby derby against the Bulls at Loftus, a withdrawal which, together with that of fullback Joe Pietersen, significantly swings the balance of power in favour of the opposition.
He will be replaced by De Kock Steenkamp in the starting line-up in Pretoria. Steenkamp has experience and proven ability at Super Rugby level.
He is a good organiser of the lineouts, which was why Coetzee opted to play him at No 5 rather than Eben Etzebeth, who forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot is trying to develop into a lock who can play both at No 4 and No 5.
“Obviously it is a big blow to lose Andries. The injury is a carryover from last week’s game against the Sharks in Durban,” said Coetzee.
“Our medical staff have examined him and they say he is where he was at the start of the year, where we needed to rest him for five weeks before letting him play. So he will be out for a minimum of five weeks and then be reassessed.”
Coetzee is hopeful that Bekker will be fit to play again on the five-week mark, which will make him eligible for the last two league matches and then the whole of the knock-out phase.
In a sense then, there is a silver lining for the franchise coach as it effectively means his star lineout forward will not be playing the three consecutive tests against England and will be returning at roughly the same time as another crucial member of his pack, Duane Vermuelen.
“Schalk Burger was here today and he is looking good so we are hopeful we will have the squad at full muster for the games after the break. If Andries returns when we hope he will, then yes, this could work for us in some way. What Andries effectively needs is a certain amount of rest and then he will be ready to play again.”
But while Coetzee has reason to feel confident about the long-term prospects for his team thanks to the fact that only one forward, Eben Etzebeth, is likely to be involved in the series against England, he also knows he needs at least one log point from the Loftus game to remain comfortable about his team’s chances.
If the Bulls go two ahead after the break it will all come down to the Stormers needing the Sharks to beat the Bulls in their upcoming match in Durban.
The headache for Meyer is arguably bigger than it is for Coetzee in that the national coach now has to go into the England series without a lock with international experience.
In Bekker’s absence Juandre Kruger, who will face the Stormers in Bulls clothing this weekend, looks likely to partner Etzebeth in the international matches.
The loss of Bekker coupled with the non-availability of Joe Pietersen, who requires a bit more time to get over the injury that kept him out of the Durban loss to the Sharks, means there are two injury enforced changes to the team for Pretoria. There is also one forced by national call-up, with SA under-20 prop Steven Kitshoff being replaced by Deon Carstens.
“We weren’t expecting to lose Steven for this game so it is a blow to us but fortunately we do have a Springbok as a replacement in the form of Deon Carstens, who packs a lot of experience and knows his way around Super Rugby.”
Coetzee has made an additional front-row change by bringing Frans Malherbe in at tighthead for Brok Harris in what could be a reaction to the going-over the Stormers' scrum was given by the Sharks last week.
In all there are six changes to the side that lost 25-20 to the Sharks, with Quinn Roux coming into Steenkamp’s position on the bench, and Siya Kolisi returning from injury for Deon Fourie at openside flank.
DHL Stormers: Gio Aplon, Gerhard van den Heever, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (C),. Bryan Habana, Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage, Jebb Sinclair, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, De Kock Steenkamp, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Tiaan Liebenberg, Deon Carstens
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Brok Harris, Quinn Roux, Don Armand, Nick Fenton-Wells, Louis Schreuder, Burton Francis.