Potential problems for Stormers
The DHL Stormers will be hoping that both their Springbok locks report for work without any issues as they start the earnest part of their build-up to their massive Vodacom Super Rugby derby against the Emirates Lions at Newlands on Saturday.
Both Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit are feeling injuries at the start of the week, with both sitting out on Monday. Du Toit missed the win against the Chiefs after pulling up with a swollen knee late in the week, apparently a legacy of the national training camp last Monday and Tuesday. The call to replace him was made after the Thursday practice.
Etzebeth has been struggling with a minor calf injury for some time and a call on him was only made on the morning of the match. He was praised by both coach Robbie Fleck and captain Siya Kolisi for being prepared to play, and Fleck admitted it might have been a risk to push him into the game.
Although Chris van Zyl was outstanding as Du Toit’s replacement in the match against the Chiefs, particularly so as he was told he wasn’t even part of the match day squad at the start of the week, the Stormers would want both Bok locks available for this crucial game as they are part of what gives them the edge against most opponents.
The Stormers have another problem at lock in that JD Schickerling, who would normally be the next second row forward out of the station after Du Toit and Etzebeth, is out injured for a few weeks after injuring his ankle.
So the appearance that Du Toit was at least a bit better after the weekend would have been good news for the team.
“Pieter is a lot better today. We will make an assessment on him tomorrow (Tuesday) but he is looking good,” said forwards coach Russell Winter.
“We have a lot of guys feeling it a bit today. That’s what you expect. It was a tough game and there were lots of bumps and bruises, and we will know about their condition tomorrow. Eben is one of the guys we will assess in the morning. He is struggling with his calf.”
The good news for the Stormers was that Jano Vermaak is back in training after coming through his concussion protocols following the knock he sustained against the Cheetahs the week previous to the Chiefs game. The condition of the other scrumhalf, Dewaldt Duvenage, who went off during the Chiefs match with what looked like an injury, is also apparenty good.
However Winter wasn’t holding out much hope for the impressive young flank newcomer Cobus Wiese.
“Cobus is a bit of a concern. We suspected that he had dislocated his shoulder, but I am not a medical doctor and am not sure. What I do know is that I don’t think he will make the weekend.”
That could leave the Stormers in a slight jam when it comes to back-up loose-forward. Nizaam Carr was excellent in the second half as Wiese’s replacement against the Chiefs, but with Rynhardt Elstadt and new recruit Stephan de Witt both still out, if Wiese is unavailable it means the Stormers will be digging quite deep into their No 6 resources.
“Hopefully Cobus will be fit to tour New Zealand with us,” said Winter. The Stormers leave on their tour after the Lions game. Winter mentioned Jaco Coetzee, who did well for the Stormers at openside in the pre-season, as a possible option should Wiese not be fit to face the Lions.
Saturday’s is a massive game for both teams as although they are in separate sections in the African conference, and the Lions possibly need to win more because their section, Africa Conference 2, is more competitive, there is also the not insignificant matter of the overall log to consider.
The Lions made last year’s final chiefly because, by obtaining a top two finish on the combined log they were able to host all their play-off games until the decider. The Stormers would like to do the same, but they are realistic enough to realise that it might be easier for the Lions as they play Australian opposition whereas the Stormers play Kiwi opposition in the cross-section phase this year.
Still, the Lions did it last year while playing New Zealand opponents, and the Stormers are aiming high. All of this makes a win on Saturday an absolute imperative for a team that has clearly closed up a lot of ground on the Lions since last season.
“We were pleased for everyone who worked so hard behind the scenes that we got the result at the weekend, but on Saturday we are up against last year’s finalists and that is enough motivation for us to realise the importance of getting going again,” said Winter.
"Everything will be absolutely the same as last week. We need to get the guys recovered. They are still smiling about the weekend but we know we have a massive game against a good team on Saturday.”