The selection of Nic Groom at scrumhalf for the Super Rugby opener against the Bulls at Loftus on Friday is a bold, but exciting and commendable selection by Stormers coach Allister Coetzee.
Most critics would’ve expected Coetzee to follow the usual conservative route and opt for the experienced Dewaldt Duvenage at No9 instead, but the coach decided to hand Groom a perfect birthday present (he turns 23 on Thursday) with a starting spot.
The former Saru captain and scrumhalf knows how important a halfback is to a rugby team. As important as the flyhalf is, in many ways the scrumhalf is the heartbeat of the team – often dictating the tempo at which they are playing, making crucial decisions almost every time he touches the ball.
Think Joost van der Westhuizen. Think Fourie du Preez.
They were the movers and shakers of the teams they played for, and if you have the right man in place, your scrumhalf can be one of the key players on the field. And Groom can be that man for the Stormers on Friday.
Just imagine the kind of pressure Elton Jantjies is going to be under from the Bulls at Loftus. He is being hailed as the Stormers’ saviour before he has even played a game for the team.
There is no doubt that the Springbok flyhalf can be the guy to finally turn this Stormers team from a very good one into a great one. But be sure that the likes of Flip van der Merwe, Arno Botha and Chiliboy Ralepelle are all going to be flying down Jantjies’ channel, trying to put him off his game by whatever means.
This is where Groom can play a big part. While he is an excellent passer of the ball and is able to get the ball out quickly from the rucks, the key to his game is probably his decision-making – when exactly to look for the break around the fringes, or feed the backs.
Jantjies cannot be expected to just wave his magic wand and do everything himself to spark the backline. But it will be interesting to see how the Lions recruit operates when he gets possession on the front foot with top players around him compared to the scraps he had to live off at the Johannesburg team.
Even the normally guarded Coetzee couldn’t stop himself saying yesterday that Jantjies is “a really exciting player”. After the struggles of recent years to score tries, the coach repeatedly stated yesterday that he wants his team to play “ball-in-hand” rugby at Loftus.
Jaco Taute, Gio Aplon, Jean de Villiers (capt), 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. Repla-cements: Martin Bezuidenhout, Frans Malherbe, Don Armand, Nizaam Carr, Dewaldt Duvenage, Gerhard van den Heever, Joe Pietersen. - The Star