Reason to share Fleck’s excitement
A glance through the DHL Stormers squad for Saturday’s warm-up fixture against the Emirates Lions will unveil a few names not completely known to those who focus only on Super Rugby, but that is precisely what has coach Robbie Fleck in an excited mood ahead of the new season.
Fleck has left out a few Springboks such as locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit plus Damian de Allende to manage their workloads ahead of the Super Rugby season which kicks off with an appetising derby against the Vodacom Bulls at Newlands on 25 February. However, the combination that will face the Lions will still be relatively full strength and the same can be said for the Lions so it will be a good dress-rehearsal for the real thing.
That will mean a proper examination for the smattering of exciting youngsters in the squad who may not be that well known now to people who don’t follow the youth levels but who could become well-known names before the season is out, as was the case with Eben Etzebeth when he made his Springbok debut in 2012 just a few months after playing his first Super Rugby game.
The Stormers (or Western Province to be more accurate) didn’t make any big name buys during the off-season (though some of the recruits could become big names), and like most of the local franchises, they have lost more than they have gained. Yet while someone like Schalk Burger will be sorely missed, and the Sharks bound Kobus van Wyk possibly too, another dominant performance from the WP team at Craven Week and the depth of good talent in the age-group sides has given reason for hope.
“To be honest I was a bit concerned about our depth when we started the pre-season but during the course of the pre-season that concern has changed and I am now quite impressed with the depth we have available,” said Fleck.
“Players such as Damian Willemse and Cobus Wiese have really grown and shown their potential during the pre-season and you know that we have never been afraid to make our youngsters at the Stormers. A player being 18 or 19 doesn’t mean he is too young if he is good enough.”
Fleck said that in most positions there were three or four players competing for positions.
“I think the exciting part about this squad is that there are a lot of youngsters and they’re pushing hard for places and that’s pushing the senior players,” said the coach.
“From a management point of view I like to think we know what we want but with some of these kids putting up their hands it is great for us to have a look at our options. What’s coming through is extremely exciting.”
What will help the Stormers this season is that the band of young players that made their debut last year and were inexperienced in Super Rugby now have more experience. Flyhalves Rob du Preez and Jean-Luc du Preez were both injured during the course of 2016 but they got a good taste of Super Rugby all the same, and Dan du Plessis, a precociously talented centre who could go a long way once he’s gained some confidence, was also blooded.
Durbanites who follow schools rugby in KZN will remember how promising the Glenwood No 8 Jaco Coetzee was at that level a few years ago, and perhaps he is now ready to realise that potential on a higher stage. He will be in the group that plays on Saturday, as will Willemse, Du Plessis and Wiese.
That’s also not to forget a talented young player who has been in the WP and Stormers groups for some time but been denied an extended run at either Super Rugby or Currie Cup level by injury – outside back EW Viljoen.
With the Lions also boasting good success at age-group level in recent times and with some of those players joining the group that last year was so impressive and made the Super Rugby final in this pre-season pipe-opener, the Newlands game could turn out to be a showcase for the new era or new wave that South African rugby needs after last year's struggle for the Springboks.
Stormers squad: Juarno Augustus, Nizaam Carr, Jaco Coetzee, Juan de Jongh, Dan du Plessis, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Robert du Preez, Dewaldt Duvenage, Rynhardt Elstadt, JC Janse van Rensburg, Cheslin Kolbe, Siya Kolisi, Dan Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, Wilcow Louw, Frans Malherbe, SP Marais, Bongi Mbonambi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Caylib Oosthuizen, Ramone Samuels, JD Schickerling, Chris van Zyl, Jano Vermaak, EW Viljoen, Cobus Wiese, Damian Willemse, Eduard Zandberg, Leolin Zas.