Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth has been ruled out of this week’s trip to Bloemfontein to face the Cheetahs.
The Stormers’ supersized second-row stalwart was seen hobbling around the training pitch in a moon boot yesterday afternoon, and coach Allister Coetzee confirmed that the 20-year-old’s ankle injury will keep him out for one more week.
“There’s a 30-percent improvement on his ankle, but he’s not ready yet,” said the Stormers coach. “He’s out for this weekend.”
More bad news is that tighthead prop Brok Harris is also unavailable thanks to a badly broken nose, while centres Juan de Jongh (’flu) and Marcel Brache (bruised chest) are questionable.
“We hope Juan and Marcel will be cleared by (team selection) on Wednesday,” added Coetzee.
Meanwhile, wing Danie Poolman has been booked off for at least three weeks with a hamstring injury.
But there was a silver-lining to an otherwise gloomy injury-update - fullback Joe Pietersen, flanker Rynhardt Elstadt and prop Steven Kitshoff are back in contention to start against the Cheetahs.
Pietersen has recovered from ’flu, while Elstadt’s suspension has run it’s course and Kitshoff returns after being rested in the week following the Junior World Championships final.
Like Pietersen, Bryan Habana was a late withdrawal from Saturday’s 27-17 win against the Lions at Newlands, but Coetzee is confident that the veteran winger will recover from the virus that has plagued several Stormers ever since they returned from Bok duty.
Pietersen’s return will allow Gio Aplon to move into the wing vacancy created by Poolman’s injury, while rookie flankers Don Armand and Tyrone Holmes are expected to be replaced in the starting lineup by Elstadt and Jebb Sinclair.
Sinclair was recruited, after the April 1 deadline, to negate injuries to a trio of No 8s and is therefore not eligible to participate in the play-offs.
Nizaam Carr has been sidelined for the rest of the competition and Coetzee is not sure whether Duane Vermeulen or Nick Koster will be ready to do battle in the knockout stages.
As a result, the Stormers are seeking special dispensation to field Sinclair in the play-offs.
“Maybe Jebb can stay,” said Coetzee. “I’m working on that. The ruling is that you can apply for special consent if you have a case. I think we have a case – Jebb has been playing for us (since May 12) and today I requested (WP CEO) Rob Wagner to apply.”
Coetzee’s request was spawned by tireless flanker Siya Kolisi’s performance in the No 8 jersey against the Lions.
Kolisi, who has done a sterling job filling in for injured captain Schalk Burger this season, was shifted to the back of the scrum against the Lions with a view to preparing him for such a role in the play-offs.
“Siya played well at number eight, but we’ve realised he’s a better six,” said the coach.
Frans Malherbe battled both the ’flu and Lions loosehead JC Janse van Rensburg at scrum time on Saturday, but the withdrawal of Harris means that the 21-year-old is likely to pack down at No 3 again this week.
“I think it’s the right thing for Frans to get out there, 100 percent fit and not fighting the ’flu, to get (his scrumming) right again.
“Deon Carstens will cover tighthead.”