Prop crisis as Stormers enter ‘curious space’ for Ulster’s Kitshoff homecoming

Stormers tighthead Frans Malherbe charges forward against Edinburgh in his first match since the World Cup final. Photo: BackpagePix

Stormers tighthead Frans Malherbe charges forward against Edinburgh in his first match since the World Cup final. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Mar 25, 2024


Wanted: a new loosehead. When: right now.

That is the sign that went up at the Stormers’ high-performance centre yesterday after Springbok prop Lizo Gqoboka went down a couple of minutes after making his return from an early-season injury against Edinburgh on Saturday.

Gqoboka replaced veteran Brok Harris, who put in a massive shift, in the second half. But shortly afterwards Harris had to take the field again because of a rolled ankle that hampered his replacement.

The 39-year-old Harris pulled the wagon through the rift in the 43-21 drubbing of the Scottish club, and head coach John Dobson said they would be knee-deep in trouble if they only relied on him.

Contact was made with the Cheetahs to get another veteran, Schalk Ferreira in, but according to Dobson, the Free State side already used up their loan quota after they recently struck a deal with the Ospreys of Wales.

The latest prop injury – with Sti Sithole, Ali Vermaak, Kwenzo Blose and Leon Lyons all on the sidelines already – was the only blemish in a quality performance in which they dispatched Edinburgh by scoring seven tries on their return to the Cape Town Stadium.

“It is now a crisis. That is five looseheads out. We will have to get someone in or we won’t be compliant (in the next game),” Dobson said.

“We have to find someone. I suppose we could find some Georgian,” the coach added with a laugh.

“But it will be somewhere in South Africa (where they will find a prop). We can’t even borrow from the Cheetahs because they have filled their loan quota. We thought about Schalk Ferreira (who is 40).

“It would be quite funny if Brokkie were to be substituted by a player older than him. We wanted Schalk because he is an old Stormer. But we will need someone by Monday.”

He said that Sithole has an outside chance of making the La Rochelle clash, while Gqoboka still needs to undergo a scan, though it does not look promising.

Blose is out for another couple of weeks after the La Rochelle game, while Vermaak picked up a season-ending injury.

Dobson was chuffed with the performance of Harris and returning Springbok Frans Malherbe against Edinburgh, after they got in some strong carries and won one of the first scrums of the game.

“To ask Brokkie to play 75 minutes at loosehead is tough, and it showed, I think. But he is a wonderful warrior and an extraordinary human being and player,” the coach said.

“Frans last played in the World Cup final, and I think he was exceptional. We didn’t get the scrum dominance till right at the very end, which was a bit disappointing.

“The forwards did a really nice job, and it was good to see our rolling maul back.”

Thanks to the forwards, the backs were able to run with the ball against Edinburgh, scoring five of the seven tries.

Dobson will hope his side can continue on this trajectory as they prepare to face Ulster on Saturday in the Mother City (7.15pm kick-off).

It’s a crucial URC clash, but even more vital as they build up to the home Champions Cup knockout encounter against La Rochelle on April 6.

“We are in a curious space. We have to beat Ulster, and we will be close to full strength,” Dobson said.

“But we will use the game to get someone like Connor Evans in so that we know with him and Adré Smith, we have lock ticked.

“Sazi (Sandi, tighthead) might need another game at some stage, so that we have a third tighthead.

“Against La Rochelle, we will be full metal jacket. And if we beat them, we will likely head to Leinster to basically play Ireland, which will be a helluva taxing thing, and come straight back to more URC games.

“Given our position on the log, we do not have the luxury of rotating as much as we would’ve liked to.”

Points scorers

Stormers 43 – Tries: Suleiman Hartzenberg (3), Leolin Zas (2), Evan Roos (2). Conversions: Manie Libbok (3), Jurie Matthee (1).

Edinburgh 21 – Tries: Jacob Henry, Viliame Mata, Paddy Harrison. Conversions: Ben Healy (3).