Cape Town – The most suitable replacement for injured lock Eben Etzebeth is weighing heavily on the minds of the Stormers' brains trust ahead of their opening Super Rugby fixture against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.
The Springbok second-rower has been sidelined with an ankle injury for the next two months and there is no obvious replacement, although several players such as De Kock Steenkamp, Rhynardt Elstad and Don Armand have strong claims.
The Lions' recruit Michael Rhodes plays lock and flank, and the South African Under-20 star Ruan Botha is also in the squad.
“Don proved very reliable during our Currie Cup campaign and there is also the option of moving Elstad from flank to lock,” the Stormers' coach, Allister Coetzee, said on Tuesday.
“Michael Rhodes hasn't started training yet and De Kock Steenkamp is a reliable player. We will have to make a quick decision and we are mindful that nowadays the game is not necessarily won by the starting XV, but rather by the match-day 22.
“That is why the bench players are so important and our options must be such that there should not be a problem with guys slotting in.”
Coetzee said that the situation of flank Schalk Burger could influence the lock selection. Burger has not fully recovered from a calf strain, which caused him to miss out on warm-up match action.
However, Coetzee said Burger would probably be ready to join training on Wednesday or Thursday.
“I'm very pleased to say that there has been a big improvement in Schalk's condition and we're expecting him to train with the squad in the next day or two.
“The latest tests show that he's fine and he's ready to train in a contact-controlled environment.”
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies is back in Cape Town after a spell of compassionate leave.
“We are very glad to have Elton back and he's shown that he's ready to go,” said Coetzee.
“He's been training on his own and he looks in good nick, we all know Elton's abilities and he'll go from strength to strength over the next few training sessions. His big challenge is to get match fit.”
Coetzee said Currie Cup Player-of-the-Year Deon Fourie, who played most of the 2012 campaign at flank, would be considered for the hooker position for the Bulls clash.
“Deon will stay at hooker, at least for the time being and we'll know that he's an option for a flank berth. Martin Bezuidenhout will be the reserve hooker.
“There is great excitement in the squad for the Bulls match because it poses a big challenge for us, especially at Loftus,” he said. – Sapa