Cape Town - The Stormers are counting the cost of a demoralising reverse against the Crusaders as they prepare to face Super Rugby’s form team - the Cheetahs - this week.
“Players who will not be up for selection this week are Gerhard van den Heever and Rynhardt Elstadt, while Don Armand is doubtful,” Stormers coach Allister Coetzee told reporters after a wet-weather training session at the team’s Bellville facility.
The trio suffered their injuries during the Stormers’ fourth loss on the trot against the Crusaders, a 19-14 defeat on Saturday that brought to three the number of consecutive losses against the seven-time champions at Newlands.
Van den Heever has been ruled out for “a minimum of two weeks” with a knee injury, while Elstadt has what appears to be a short-term shoulder complaint.
Armand has been sent for scans on tender intercostals (the muscles that run between the ribs).
Jaco Taute is expected to fill the wing vacancy, while Western Province flyhalf Gary van Aswegen is the likely candidate for bench duty.
With crocked Springbok enforcers Schalk Burger and Eben Etzebeth on the sidelines, the loss of Elstadt and Armand may force Coetzee to tap even further into WP’s Vodacom Cup ranks.
Blindside flanker Michael Rhodes has finally been cleared to make his Stormers debut, and Coetzee confirmed that the Lions import would take Elstadt’s place.
But, if Armand’s scans are positive, Province lock Gerbrandt Grobler is the preferred choice to provide second row cover from the bench.
In recent seasons, the Stormers have viewed the perennial trip to Bloemfontein as little more than an opposed training session, but a streak of four wins makes the Cheetahs the hottest team in the competition at present.
Having beaten the Highlanders, Waratahs and Western Force on a three-win tour of Australasia, the Cheetahs made light work of the Rebels in their homecoming match on Saturday.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Coetzee noted. “We’re well aware it’s a tough derby and it’s important that we focus on our game.”
The Stormers’ “game” is actually in pretty good nick, except for the fact that their lineout is a sitting duck with Deon Fourie at hooker, and their over-commitment to stopping runners makes it a cakewalk for opposing halfbacks to hit grass with tactical kicks in behind flat wingers.
The combination is a poisonous cocktail, as demonstrated by a shadow Crusaders side missing All Blacks Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Israel Dagg, while tighthead prop Owen Franks cried off after 11 minutes and scrumhalf Andy Ellis only came on with nine minutes to go.
The Stormers welcome back Steven Kitshoff from a one-match suspension, and loosehead prop Pat Cilliers is expected to make way for the decisive set-piece tussle with the Cheetahs.
Coetzee was pleased to announce that injured Bok flyer Bryan Habana (knee), hooker Scarra Ntubeni (shoulder) and Etzebeth (ankle) are on track to return to active duty in round 10, a week before the team leaves on tour.
But Coetzee’s team is in 11th place with two wins from five games, and Habana will return to a side fighting to save face, rather than one fighting for the title, if they don’t reel in the Cheetahs this week.