Etzebeth injury blow for Stormers
An ankle injury to lock Eben Etzebeth overshadowed the Stormers’ regulation 57-0 win over the Boland Cavaliers in a Super Rugby warm-up fixture at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Stormers scored nine tries to nil and would have felt that they got most of what they wanted out of the match.
But the negative of injuries to key players always hovers like a spectre over early-season matches, and Etzebeth is probably the last person that coach Allister Coetzee would have wanted to see coming off the field injured less than two weeks from the tournament opener against the Bulls at Loftus.
Losing Etzebeth for the Bulls match looks a strong possibility as he looked in considerable discomfort as he hobbled off the field in the first quarter.
Indeed, while the medical assessments still need to be done, it could well be that Etzebeth misses a couple of early games, which would mean the Stormers have to live without him against the Sharks and Chiefs too.
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“I have to admit I am a bit nervous about Eben’s condition. He fell very awkwardly and has an ankle strain and we will know the extent of it once he has been assessed tomorrow,” said Coetzee.
The Etzebeth injury offset the positive of strong returns to the playing field of two players who have been out for varying lengths of time – Andries Bekker and Siya Kolisi.
Bekker, who has been absent since the closing stages of the Currie Cup season, put in a busy 50-odd minutes before leaving the field straight after scoring a trademark try.
Flanker Kolisi, out since halfway through last year, was as prominent as Bekker, and capped his comeback with a hat-trick of tries, which he scored in quick succession between the 57th and 69th minutes.
Coetzee can be confident after this that Kolisi will quickly regain the form that made him such a talking point in his debut Super Rugby season.
Another returnee, Rynhardt Elstadt, did not cross the line but was even more impressive than the other pair, and was definitely the pick of the players in the first half as the Stormers ground out a 17-0 lead in slippery conditions.
Now trading almost exclusively as a blindside flank after playing mostly lock in 2011, Elstadt looks to have trimmed down for the role and appears busier and more mobile.
With Schalk Burger set to return at some stage, Coetzee certainly looks spoiled for choice at loose forward.
And of course, if Etzebeth is ruled out, Elstadt can still slot back in at lock, with Michael Rhodes, the new recruit from the Lions, being the other option.
It’s debatable whether we can be as positive about the Stormers’ flyhalf depth and the choice of goalkicker.
Kurt Coleman made a positive start with some good little chips and a cross-kick that put Gio Aplon in for the second try.
But no sooner had someone mentioned that he is a less-than-reliable goalkicker than Coleman missed a conversion from in front of the posts and then missed another from a kickable position not long after.
Joe Pietersen took over the goalkicking from Coleman when he came on at fullback, but Jaco Taute, who scored a try off some excellent running from Bryan Habana with almost his first touch of the ball as a Stormer in front of a Cape Town crowd, has surely cemented his place in the last line of defence for Loftus.
So it’s small wonder then that Coetzee seems determined to play Elton Jantjies at No 10 against the Bulls even though the Springbok newcomer to the Cape won’t have played an official game for the Stormers before then.
Jantjies returns from compassionate leave this week and he will be expected to embark on a sharp learning curve both in training and in the opposed session against the WP Vodacom Cup team on Wednesday night.
For the rest, there were probably too many handling errors for Coetzee’s comfort, but then that was to be expected in a warm-up game, particularly one that was played in such slippery conditions following persistent unseasonal rainfall on the morning of the match.
Damian de Allende and Jean de Villiers combined okay for a first time together in the midfield, although the former does appear to be too lateral in his running at times.
Stormers – Tries: Jaco Taute, Gio Aplon (2), Siya Kolisi (3), Jean de Villiers, Joe Pietersen, Andries Bekker; Conversions: Joe Pietersen (5), Kurt Coleman.
Boland Cavaliers – None