Cape Town - For the third consecutive year, the Stormers will have to start their Super Rugby campaign without star lock Eben Etzebeth.
And with that could go most of the Stormers’ hopes of toppling the Bulls in their tournament opener at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday.
Not only was Etzebeth ruled out when the Stormers released their injury report on Monday night, but fellow lock Manuel Carizza also won’t make the trip to Pretoria. Etzebeth (chest) and Carizza (shoulder) sustained their knocks in last Friday’s warm-up against the Cheetahs at Newlands, with Carizza tweeting over the weekend that there was “nothing wrong” that came up in his scans afterwards.
The one positive for Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is the fact that both players don’t have long-term injuries, with Etzebeth ruled out for four weeks and Carizza three. That means that Etzebeth will sit out Saturday’s final warm-up game against Boland at the Cape Town Stadium, the Bulls match, the second Super Rugby encounter against the Blues at Newlands, and probably the next one against the Lions at Ellis Park.
But Etzebeth is the “leading man” for the Stormers in many ways and his absence is a crippling blow, especially at the start of the season. The 23-year-old lock sets the tone for the Cape side with his immense physicality, and he has also developed an outstanding habit of winning lineouts against the throw.
He would’ve been tasked with taking the game to what is shaping up to be a monster Bulls pack at Loftus in two weeks’ time, with the likes of young colossus Jacques du Plessis lining up at No 4, Victor Matfield in the second row too, and a loose trio of Deon Stegmann, Arno Botha and Pierre Spies, along with Trevor Nyakane and Adriaan Strauss in the front row.
Now coach Coetzee will have to look at moving Michael Rhodes from flank to No 5 lock, a job he did well during the Currie Cup, while Jean Kleyn will have to show that he won’t be intimidated by the Loftus cauldron at No 4. There is still an outside chance that specialist No 5 lock Ruan Botha could be ready for the Bulls game, but he is unlikely to face Boland this weekend and would be a risk as he doesn’t have any gametime under his belt.
The same applies to tighthead prop Frans Malherbe, although new signing Vincent Koch proved against the Cheetahs that he is good enough to start at Loftus.
The Stormers said on Monday night that Bok loose forwards Nizaam Carr (viral infection) and Siya Kolisi (tight hamstring) also won’t play against Boland this weekend, but were making “good progress”, which would indicate that they could still face the Bulls next week.
Another Springbok in centre Damian de Allende (quadriceps) won’t run out this weekend either, but Coetzee said last Friday that he could be fit enough for the Bulls match, and he is on track with his rehabilitation.
Wing Kobus van Wyk (calf) is in a similar boat and has officially been ruled out for 10 days. Utility back EW Viljoen will miss the Boland match as a precaution after taking a blow to the head against the Cheetahs, but did pass a concussion test and will be considered for the Bulls clash.