No Schalk for Loftus battle
Schalk Burger will not be part of the DHL Stormers squad that travels to Loftus for their first Super Rugby match of the season against the Vodacom Bulls on Friday night.
Coach Allister Coetzee, in confirming his team for the big derby match, said that Burger won’t be playing at all in the tough opening three-match sequence that comes before the Stormers’ first bye.
After the Bulls game the Stormers travel to Durban to play the Sharks before they head back to Cape Town to play their first home match of the season.
Burger has recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of rugby for most of last year, but a calf strain picked up in the pre-season has postponed his long-awaited return to the playing field, much to the frustration of the player himself.
“It’s a very unfortunate scenario for Schalk as first it was the damn knee, but now that the knee is finally better he has picked up a calf strain and it isn’t coming right quickly enough for him to start the season for us,” said Coetzee.
“If we were maybe playing a semifinal or something we may have risked Schalk, but at this stage of the season I don’t want to risk it. It’s a simple calf injury, but Schalk does have a history of calf strain and I would like him instead to work on strengthening that calf.
"We will leave it until after the Chiefs game, when we have our bye, before we reassess when Schalk may be ready to return.”
Coetzee added that it is not unusual for a player who has recovered from a particular injury to then pick up another injury as the lay-off can make specific parts of the body weaker.
“If we have to let Schalk get a run in the WP Vodacom Cup side then it is something that we will consider but I won’t make that decision now,” he said.
Burger is not the only first-choice player absent from the team that will play at Loftus, with Juan de Jongh still missing with a hamstring injury and Damian de Allende making his Super Rugby debut at inside centre.
With Elton Jantjies making his Stormers debut in Pretoria, it would appear to be a risk to play the inexperienced De Allende in a key decision-making position, but Coetzee disagrees.
“Elton is a really exciting player who has a lot of experience and ability to put players around him into space and he also has played international rugby. Damian played well for us in the Currie Cup final last year against a good Sharks team and he showed there that he has the attributes for No 12,” said Coetzee.
“We also prefer to play Jean at outside centre because outside centre is a harder position to play given the extra responsibility of organising the defence. I would rather have a new player playing inside centre than at outside, and Elton and Jean will be on either side of him and both have plenty of experience.”
Another young player to make his mark for WP in the Currie Cup last year to be starting against the Bulls is scrumhalf Nic Groom, who beat off the challenge of Dewaldt Duvenage and Louis Schreuder for this particular game.
“It was a tough choice to make at No 9, but we took a look at what is coming and what is needed at Loftus,” said the coach.
“We have Nic Groom and Dewaldt in the squad this week because of what we think we need to beat the Bulls. The following week it might be a different story when we go to play against the Sharks.”
De Kock Steenkamp plays as the lock partner to Andries Bekker in the absence of the other injured Stormers star, Eben Etzebeth, but he has played enough games for the Stormers for it not to be any threat to the Stormers’ continuity.
As expected, Lions Springboks Pat Cilliers and Jaco Taute join Jantjies in making their Super Rugby debuts for the Cape team, though unlike the flyhalf, both of those players did play for the Stormers in the pre-season phase.
Springbok captain De Villiers will lead the side in the absence of Burger, something he is also hardly new to and it is worth noting that he was the captain when the Stormers won successively at Loftus in 2011 and 2012.
DHL STORMERS: Jaco Taute, Gio Aplon, Jean de Villiers (captain), Damian de Allende, Bryan Habana, Elton Jantjies, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Pat Cilliers, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: Martin Bezuidenhout, Frans Malherbe, Don Armand, Nizaam Carr, Dewaldt Duvenage, Gerhard van den Heever, Joe Pietersen.