Loading...
Loading Live Scoring...
*All times CAT (GMT+2)
days
:
hours
:
minutes
:
seconds

Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Robbie Fleck © Gallo Images

Draw counts against the Stormers



After winning the Currie Cup final with a second-string pack the Stormers should have reason to go into the new Vodacom Super Rugby season in a confident mood, but the draw counts heavily against their chances of advancing further than last year’s quarterfinal finish.

With the squad set to embark on their three-match tour of Australasia the next day, and two tough matches in New Zealand awaiting them once they have negotiated a potentially perilous first stop in Sydney, it is imperative that the Stormers get their campaign off to a winning start when they host the Jaguares at Newlands on Saturday.

The Cape side does return for two home fixtures against the Blues and the Reds immediately after the tour, but they then face three tough away derbies – against the Bulls in Pretoria on Easter Saturday, the Lions in Johannesburg a week later, and then the timing of their first bye gives them a fortnight before they travel to Durban to play the Sharks.

No-one in their right mind would consider a fixture list like the one the Stormers face to be easy, and their coach Robbie Fleck knows it’s going to be tough. Making it even tougher for his charges is the fact that he has been hit with an early season injury list that will severely test his squad’s depth.

“It is not going to be easy for us to be touring without several of our more experienced players. That is when you need your top players to be present, but it is what it is,” says Fleck.

“There is no point in complaining about it, we just have to get on with it. The good thing about the situation we face is that there will be plenty of chance for fringe players to stake a claim and perhaps come though and prove they are ready to play Super Rugby. That will give us comfort later on in the competition when we do have the top players back. We will know we have the depth.”

Fortunately for Fleck there are some areas where he is spoilt for choice, and young players like Cobus Wiese and Jaco Coetzee gained experience in last year’s Currie Cup and have added considerably to the Stormers’ resources at loose-forward. Stephan de Witt is fit too after missing most of last season because of injury and the former Lions youngster, the one player in the squad who fits the out-and-out specialist fetcher mould, did show some signs of promise in the recent warm-up game against the Bulls.

However, the lack of an experienced fetcher has long been an Achilles heel for the Stormers, and it is that fact that has given rise to persistent rumours that the Stormers are keen to lure former Sharks fetcher Marcel Coetzee, who is now playing in Ireland, to Cape Town. Western Province director of rugby Gert Smal did hold talks with Coetzee when he was still playing for the Sharks a couple of seasons ago but the former Port Natal Hoerskool pupil elected to stay in Durban before heading overseas.

Whatever happens, Coetzee won’t be playing for the Stormers this season, so it looks likely that skipper Siya Kolisi will wear the No 6 jersey he wore for the Springboks last year, with Pieter-Steph du Toit likely to play blindside flank once Eben Etzebeth is back playing again. Another option is to play the abrasive Jaco Coetzee on the flank, and of course Nizaam Carr has filled in quite ably at openside when asked to do so.

The timing of Etzebeth’s return is likely to be a talking point for the first part of the season. According to Fleck, there is no telling when Etzebeth will be over the injury he sustained playing for the Boks early last December, and the Stormers will be taking it on a game by game basis.

Although the Stormers have a lot of depth at lock, with that depth being boosted by the early season form shown by age-group star Salman Moerat as well as the great form that JD Schickerling displayed in the Currie Cup, there could be a problem with the fit between the probable first choice pairing in Etzebeth’s absence. Both Schickerling and Du Toit are essentially No 5 locks.

Fleck has intimated that he will play the pair together, with Schickerling probably wearing the No 4 and taking on a tight role. It isn’t ideal for Schickerling, who is understood to be on Rassie Erasmus’ radar as a possible Springbok No 5 (if Du Toit wears the Bok No 7), and it isn’t ideal for the Stormers.

Fleck is hopeful that most of the injured players – Etzebeth, Frans Maherbe, Juarno Augustus, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Dan du Plessis, Jan Vermaak and Ali Vermaak – will be back in action by the time the squad returns from tour. If that is the case, the Stormers’ chances of doing okay will be considerably boosted, particularly if they can beat the Jaguares and then pick up at least one win on the road.

The progress of Jean-Luc du Plessis will be monitored particularly closely. The flyhalf has struggled with a groin injury since the first week of last season and before he travelled to the USA to undergo an operation in December, there were fears he would never play again. However, the good news is that he has made a good recovery and Fleck expects his return to be imminent.

If that is the case, it will considerably ease a potential headache for the coach, as the departure of Robert du Preez, Kurt Coleman and Brandon Thomson has denuded the Stormers depth in this key position. Damian Willemse will start as first choice and Joshua Stander and George Whitehead are back-ups.

Once the other Du Plessis, Dan, is back in action it will also bolster the midfield depth that has been hit by the departure for Scotland of Currie Cup final hero Huw Jones and, since the end of the last Super Rugby season, the experienced Springbok Juan de Jongh, who is now playing for London Wasps.

An interesting off-field signing is JJ Engelbrecht, who will be an option for the Stormers at both wing, which is where he played for Western Province before his departure for the Bulls several years ago, and at outside centre. He played for the Boks in the latter position and Fleck said that outside centre will be his preferred position. EW Viljoen is of course the established No 13, so Engelbrecht’s arrival from Japan will add depth.

With Willemse likely to play most of his rugby at flyhalf, Fleck will be eager to see SP Marais recover quickly from an early season injury. Marais was a revelation at fullback for the Stormers last year and Fleck will be pleased that he has recovered enough to be a likely tourist. Dillyn Leyds is likely to wear the No 15 against the Jaguares, with Fleck’s options on the wing including Springbok Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen, both recruited from the Cheetahs, as well as Blitzbok star Seabelo Senatla.

If the injured players get back quickly and the potential grey areas at the back can be sorted out, the Stormers do have a strong enough pack to go far in the competition. The return of Steven Kitshoff from France means that the Stormers pack, when at full strength, could feature no less than six of the forwards who starred for the Boks when they dominated the All Blacks in the upfront battle at Newlands last October.

DHL STORMERS’ 2018 FIXTURE LIST

Stormers v Jaguares (Cape Town, 17 February)

Waratahs v Stormers (Sydney, 24 February)

Crusaders v Stormers (Christchurch, 3 March)

Highlanders v Stormers (Dunedin, 9 March)

Stormers v Blues (Cape Town, 17 March)

Stormers v Reds (Cape Town, 24 March)

Bulls v Stormers (Pretoria, 31 March)

Lions v Stormers (Johannesburg, 7 April)

Sharks v Stormers (Durban, 21 April)

Stormers v Rebels (Cape Town, 27 April)

Stormers v Bulls (Cape Town, 5 May)

Stormers v Chiefs (Cape Town, 12 May)

Sunwolves v Stormers (Tokyo, 19 May)

Stormers v Lions (Cape Town, 26 May)

Jaguares v Stormers (Buenos Aires, 30 June)

Stormers v Sharks (Cape Town, 7 July)



Comments

More expert analysis and opinion from Sport24
The opinions expressed by Sport24 experts and bloggers are theirs alone, and do not necessarily represent those of SuperSport

Event Streaming

Channel Streaming

Other Live Streaming

Event Streaming

Channel Streaming