Coetzee puts hooker at No8 but Schalk’s aiming for semis

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Ashfak Mohamed

THE Stormers are hatching a plan that could see Schalk Burger run out at No8 in a likely Super Rugby semi-final at Newlands on July 28.

Regular hooker Deon Fourie was a surprise choice at No8 yesterday by coach Allister Coetzee for Saturday’s clash against the Rebels at Newlands (3pm kick-off), after Canadian Jebb Sinclair was declared ineligible for the play-offs by Sanzar as he was signed by the Stormers after April 1.

But The Star understands that Burger has made significant progress in the rehabilitation process on his knee ligament injury this week, and now has an “outside chance” of being ready for the semi-final.

Coetzee has said in recent weeks that first-choice No8 Duane Vermeulen was the best bet of the three injured loose forwards (including Nick Koster) to play in a semi-final, but it is believed that Burger has surpassed Vermeulen in that regard.

And, despite not having played any rugby since being taken off on a medical cart during the Hurricanes game at Newlands on February 25, it is believed that the Springbok star will go straight into the starting line-up at No8 if he is fit for the semi-final.

Burger has operated mainly at flank throughout his career, but has played Test rugby at the back of the scrum before and certainly possesses all the necessary skills and speed to play at No8. His physical presence and experience would be a godsend for the Stormers in the loose trio, especially with Vermeulen missing in a pressure-packed situation like a home play-off.

While Burger was named as the captain for the season, he is unlikely to reclaim the role from Jean de Villiers, who has done an outstanding job this year and has been installed as the Springbok captain for the rest of the 2012 season following the 2-0 series victory over England last month.

Siya Kolisi will remain at No6 for the semi-final, with Rynhardt Elstadt likely to continue at blindside flank. It is expected Fourie will compete with Tiaan Liebenberg for a starting berth at hooker for the semis.

In another big boost to the Stormers ahead of the play-offs, Bok lock Eben Etzebeth was running freely on the sidelines during practice yesterday. Etzebeth did a series of short sprints under the watch of team physiotherapist Wayne Hector and showed no side-effects of his ankle sprain, which means that he is sure to be ready for the semi-final in a fortnight.

But in the meantime, Coetzee is “having a look” at Fourie as a No8 against the Rebels, and he believes that the feisty hooker has all the skills to be a success in that position.

Flyhalf Peter Grant (flu) again sat out of training yesterday, but the coach was confident that he will face the Rebels. “He is really feeling much better. It’s just precautionary,” Coetzee said. “But he will be joining us for our captain’s run on Friday.”

Stormers starting XV: Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (capt), Bryan Habana, Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage, Deon Fourie, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Frans Malherbe, Tiaan Liebenberg, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Brok Harris, Deon Carstens, Quinn Roux, Jebb Sinclair, Louis Schreuder, Burton Francis, Gerhard van den Heever.


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