Just when the Stormers seem to have chased away the flu bug, the old curse of the No 8s has struck them again.
As if missing Duane Vermeulen, Nick Koster and Nizaam Carr was not enough, Canadian import Jebb Sinclair has now picked up a calf strain! Sinclair watched from the sidelines on Wednesday as his teammates trained at their Bellville headquarters, with Don Armand packing down at No 8.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee didn’t appear to be too concerned about Sinclair’s problem, but he has had a lot of practice in dealing with injury setbacks during the past two years. In 2011, almost every flyhalf in the Cape went down, and this year, it has been the turn of the loose forwards, especially at No 8.
The situation has become so bad that team joker and captain Jean de Villiers, quipped that Coetzee had forgotten the names of Schalk Burger and Vermeulen when the coach struggled to remember the list of injured players yesterday.
To add further intrigue to this week, a rare spell of thunderstorms have been predicted for Bloemfontein on Saturday.
When asked about the weather and Sinclair’s injury, Coetzee replied: “Jebb has a calf strain, but he should be okay to go. It’s just precautionary. There are no more surprises that could be surprises to us anymore! Look now, Jebb also has a stiff calf. Number eights this year ... Nothing is a surprise.
“It’s not that we have a Plan A and a Plan B. It’s about our players who are knowledgeable and experienced enough to adapt on the day. We know that we can’t fight the elements, and we play every year on a wet Newlands in winter. I think we shouldn’t have a problem in terms of the weather conditions. We’ve had so many setbacks this year that we don’t worry about external factors. We must just stick to the plan and implement the plan.”
And that plan is to neutralise the attacking threat of the Cheetahs, who have named a re-jigged backline for Saturday’s game. The man the Stormers have to watch out for is dynamic fullback Willie le Roux, and the Cape side feel that it is up to their forwards to secure front-foot possession.
In that regard, Coetzee surprisingly opted to retain De Kock Steenkamp at lock ahead of Quinn Roux, despite the latter making more of an impact on the field. Steenkamp is primarily a lineout jumper, while Roux is a big physical specimen who is a strong ball-carrier, makes telling hits on defence and is a good lineout option.
A better combination may have been Tiaan Liebenberg starting at hooker and Deon Fourie packing down as a loose forward, especially with discarded Springbok fetcher Heinrich Brüssow waiting to steal ball on the ground. Fourie was excellent in that role against the Lions, and adding the bulk of Liebenberg would also have strengthened a wobbly scrum.
“The Cheetahs are a very good team, make no mistake. They can disrupt your rhythm, especially at lineouts. If our team are not accurate against them, then you are making it a long day for you. But if you are clinical, like the Bulls were in the first 50 minutes, and give them nothing, then they are not in the contest. But as soon as you start becoming sloppy and inaccurate, then they live off those turnovers and scraps and punish you,” Coetzee said.
“They will play what they see in front of them, come up with chip kicks and score 80-metre tries. They have a good passing game, and try to run at you and outflank you. We’ve got to look after the ball and not do silly things – long passes, and they got an intercept the last time at Newlands. They are going to challenge our defence, and we’ve got to stay in our systems and build a nice rhythm.”
Captain De Villiers echoed those sentiments yesterday, warning his players not to get caught off-guard by the Cheetahs. “It’s about getting back to the old thing of concentrating on what we want to do and achieve in this game,” he said. “You must expect anything from them. The weather might be bad as well, so it’s going to come down to our execution and how we apply ourselves on the day.”
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Cameron Jacobs, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Pieter van Zyl, 8 Justin Downey, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (capt), 1 Trevor Nyakane. Bench: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Philip Snyman.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (capt), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Bench: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Don Armand, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Referee: Craig Joubert. Kickoff: 3pm. – Cape Times