As if just missing out on making history in Christchurch wasn’t bad enough, the Stormers arrived in Auckland yesterday with the news that hooker Scarra Ntubeni and lock Michael Rhodes have been ruled out of the rest of the tour.
The Cape Times understands that Ntubeni, who injured his calf in Saturday’s 14-13 defeat to the Crusaders, will be coming home this week as scans are believed to have indicated a torn calf muscle.
It is unclear for how long Ntubeni will be out for, as it depends on what grade the injury is – a grade one tear will keep him out for between two and four weeks, grade two between four and eight weeks, and the most serious is the grade three, which would require surgery and up to three months of rehabilitation.
Rhodes showed no signs of injury and completed the Crusaders match, but he is believed to have a torn shoulder muscle that was discovered yesterday and is also heading back to Cape Town this week.
His absence is a huge blow as the Stormers are already stretched thin at lock, as the injured Eben Etzebeth is out until May, Argentine Manuel Carizza for the next two months and Rynhardt Elstadt for about five weeks.
De Kock Steenkamp only made his return from a groin injury at the weekend and performed superbly, with the only other specialist lock in the squad being youngster Ruan Botha, who sat on the bench in Christchurch but did not take to the field.
Coach Allister Coetzee announced last week that WP Under-21 utility forward Jurie van Vuuren has been called up to the Stormers squad as he can play at No 4 lock and flank, and Van Vuuren flew out of Cape Town International yesterday to Auckland.
And it is believed that WP Vodacom Cup lock Tazz Fuzani will replace Rhodes in the tour group and he will fly to Auckland later this week ahead of Friday’s game against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Fuzani produced a busy performance for WP in their 16-8 victory over Boland at City Park in Athlone on Saturday afternoon, and his physicality and strong defence could come in handy for the Stormers.
Coetzee said last week that he is unlikely to sign another lock from outside the Cape region as he feels he has enough back-up in the shape of Van Vuuren and Fuzani, while he added that “within the team, we’ve still got other options that we can use should we run into difficulty”.
So, while that was before Rhodes’s injury, if Coetzee is reluctant to hand Botha his Stormers debut against the double defending champion Chiefs, one option could be to move No 8 Duane Vermeulen into the second row. Vermeulen has filled in at lock on a few occasions when the need has arisen, and the Stormers are well-stocked in the loose-forward department.
Deon Fourie and Schalk Burger both had their best games of the season against the Crusaders, although Burger has some way to go before being back to his old self, while Nizaam Carr nearly snatched a dramatic victory with a late surge through a gap, but was hauled down by Tom Taylor a few metres out. And Springbok flank Siya Kolisi should be back in the mix after being left out last week.
A replacement hooker for Ntubeni is not being considered at the moment as Fourie is the back-up to Tiaan Liebenberg, although the Stormers may fly someone in later if required.
Martin Bezuidenhout filled in last year and is now at Griquas, but serious consideration must also be given to experienced Boland No 2 Clemen Lewis, who has knocked on the Stormers door for many years but has never been given an opportunity.
Lewis was again at his robust best for Boland against WP at the weekend, and his lineout throwing has improved over the years.
Fullback Jaco Taute (AC joint in shoulder) and prop Pat Cilliers (rib) were also hurt in the Crusaders game, but they are still with the team and will be treated by the medical staff. Forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot told the Cape Times that Taute is not yet coming home.
“We will make a decision in the week (on Taute), but just like with Siya’s one (AC joint), we will wait for it to settle.
“Pat has a rib cartilage problem. We will wait and see, as Brok (Harris) is here to cover prop and Deon can cover at hooker.”
With Taute unlikely to play, Gio Aplon could move to fullback for the Chiefs clash, which would see Samoan Sailosi Tagicakibau start at left wing.
While Nic Groom’s selection was an obvious success, Coetzee should perhaps make a change at flyhalf, where Peter Grant’s experience and efficiency would be valuable against the Chiefs. Demetri Catrakilis kicked well at goal, but his tactical kicking was poor in Christchurch and he missed touch on a few occasions from penalties.
Although the Stormers were brave on defence, their attacking play still leaves a lot to be desired.
Proudfoot said that while the Stormers were “devastated” to lose by a single point after leading 13-3 with 28 minutes to go, the Cape side would glean a lot of confidence from their gutsy display ahead of the Chiefs clash.
“The guys did everything that we asked of them to do. I think we let ourselves down with execution, particularly at the lineout,” he said.
“From a physical perspective, to stand up to an All Black team has to give you confidence. The big thing for us is the resolve and the determination of our senior players. Schalk was incredible, Jean was incredible, Duane and Deon Fourie were phenomenal. When you can see that players are hungry like that, it will rub off on the rest of the team.
“It’s our challenge as management to make sure that the team is in the right mindset for Friday night against the Chiefs.”
Hamilton: Chiefs v Stormers (8.35am), Melbourne: Rebels v Crusaders (10.40am).
Wellington: Hurricanes v Cheetahs (5.35am), Dunedin: Highlanders v Force (8.35am), Canberra: Brumbies v Waratahs (10.40am), Johannesburg: Lions v Blues (3pm), Durban: Sharks v Reds (5.05pm).
P W D L F A P
Sharks 3 3 0 0 95 48 14
Tahs 2 2 0 0 75 26 10
Chiefs 2 2 0 0 39 29 8
Bulls 4 2 0 2 88 85 10
Brumbies 3 2 0 1 73 62 9
Reds 3 2 0 1 75 82 9
Lions 4 2 0 2 95 92 8
Highl’rs 2 1 0 1 48 42 6
Rebels 2 1 0 1 42 46 5
Force 3 1 0 2 67 77 5
Blues 3 1 0 2 78 91 5
Stormers 3 1 0 2 42 66 5
Cheetahs 4 1 0 3 82 108 5
Crus’rs 3 1 0 2 48 66 4
Canes 3 0 0 3 48 75 1 - Cape Times