Ruan Botha’s move to the Sharks will cost the Stormers in tackles next season.
The 23-year-old Western Province lock is believed to be in the final stages of negotiating a release from the union with a view to signing for the Durban franchise soon.
The transaction is no doubt related to WP’s acquisition of Pieter-Steph du Toit in August. Botha would have enthusiastically waved goodbye to Manuel Carizza five months ago; the departure of the Argentine second-row forward removed the only real challenger for the No 5 jersey in the Cape.
But the pending arrival of Du Toit, the athletic Sharks and Springbok jumper, ensured that the position battle would be an intense one.
In addition, Stormers scrumming lock Jean Kleyn’s emergence as a force this year, coupled with Eben Etzebeth’s ability to swing between either lock positions, may have convinced WP director of rugby Gert Smal that the value of Botha’s contract would be better spent on a search for size and experience to reinforce the smallest backline corps.
At face value, Botha’s exit has depleted the Stormers’ lock stocks, although it is in the back row where his absence will be felt.
When Du Toit first signed for Province, the talk in the corridors was that he might be deployed at No 7.
With two of Botha, Kleyn and Etzebeth in the second row, and two-metre-tall Du Toit packing down at blindside flank, the Stormers would have been able to deploy one of the tallest lineouts in Super Rugby next season.
An efficient lineout, backed up by a ferocious scrum – featuring the likes of Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi and JC Janse van Rensburg in the front row – would have issued the Stormers with a day pass to attacking field position, while three towering contesters would have increased the number of turnovers won at the lineout.
Such set-piece superiority would greatly diminish any team’s tackle count and, for the Stormers, it would also have alleviated some of the pressure on an athletic pack to front up in the gain-line battle without heavyweights Duane Vermeulen (Toulon) and Michael Rhodes (Saracens).
Minus Botha, the Stormers second row is likely to be manned by Du Toit and Etzebeth, while Rynhardt Elstadt, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Roelof Smit, Nizaam Carr and Schalk Burger vie for a place in the loose trio.
New coach Eddie Jones will begin assessing his selection options when pre-season training officially gets underway in the middle of November, and the Stormers will kick off their 2016 campaign against the Bulls at Newlands on February 27.