Bryan Habana, Eben Etzebeth and Steven Kitshoff are all set to play off the bench for the Stormers in Saturday’s Super Rugby derby against the Lions at Newlands.
Springboks Habana and Etzebeth, as well as Baby Bok Kitshoff, have all shouldered a heavy workload this season, and may not be in their freshest mental and physical state to start against the Lions.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said at a media briefing after practice in Bellville on Monday that he had one-on-one meetings with all the national players, and wants to pick a team “with hunger and desire” to take on the Lions.
Habana sustained a slight knock to the knee in the Test against England in Port Elizabeth at the weekend, while Etzebeth has a “stiff ankle”. But both players are expected to be able to play on Saturday, and while Coetzee confirmed that he is thinking of picking Habana and Kitshoff on the bench, the Cape Times understands that Etzebeth will also be eased back as a substitute if the X-rays are clear.
Fullback Joe Pietersen has flu and didn’t train yon Monday either, but will be fine to play. “Bryan is basically resting. He’s never had a break this year and has played in every match and all three Tests. He never sat out of training either,” the coach said. “He got a knock to the knee also, but there is nothing major, nothing wrong with the knee. The only concern is Eben, but we’ve got to look at Bryan’s body. We still have five or six games to play.”
Coetzee said that he did not want to make the same mistake of bringing all his Boks back at the same time as he did for last year’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Lions, which Western Province lost at Ellis Park. “Sometimes the mental state is different; sometimes physically, they are not up to it,” the coach said.
“That’s why I could differentiate between a Bryan Habana who hasn’t had a break – I might look at playing him off the bench. Kitshoff could get a break. He has played five games in two weeks – for a 20-year-old to play in a junior world competition like that, you don’t want to play players until they are broken.”
Good news for the Stormers is that star lock Andries Bekker trained without any problems on Monday, and will make his return at No 5 after missing the last game against the Bulls with a sore back. He is likely to be partnered by De Kock Steenkamp, who ran the Stormers lineouts at Loftus.
The way the Stormers lined up in training on Monday indicated that Deon Carstens and Frans Malherbe will continue at prop, while Deon Fourie could start at hooker in place of Tiaan Liebenberg. In the loose trio, Don Armand will come in at blindside flank for the suspended Rynhardt Elstadt. Canadian No 8 Jebb Sinclair will rejoin the Stormers squad on Tuesday.
“Andries Bekker is really looking good and I’m very happy about that. He is really running freely without any pain, which is a good sign for us,” Coetzee said.
The Stormers mentor also confirmed that Springbok captain Jean de Villiers will play at inside centre despite operating at No 13 for the national team. He added that while the Lions will travel to Cape Town without suspended head coach John Mitchell, the Stormers won’t take them lightly.
“I must say that Jean de Villiers, it looks like he is getting younger! I suppose with the added responsibility as the national captain, and captain of the side here, he is really so enthusiastic.
“Despite what’s happening at the Lions, we are not even looking at that. Things like that normally pull a group together. Villas-Boas got the chop at Chelsea, and Di Matteo came in and they won two trophies after that. I can’t explain it any better than that.”
We saw against the Sharks that this Lions side – if you don’t get the mix right and team selection right, and you don’t pitch up on the day, you can get into trouble.” – Cape Times