Cape Town - On a promising day for the Stormers, when they announced a fresh leadership group in Juan de Jongh and Frans Malherbe as co-captains, there was some doom and gloom as well.
Coach Robbie Fleck has lost two of his “tough guys”, Jean Kleyn (wrist, four months) and Rynhardt Elstadt (groin, six weeks), for sizable chunks of the Super Rugby campaigns on Tuesday. Their absence will change the dynamic of the Stormers’ back-up in terms of physicality, which is crucial in a competition as lengthy as Super Rugby.
Kleyn would’ve been the lock on the bench for next Saturday’s opener against the Bulls at Newlands, behind the Springbok second-row pair of Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit. He is just the type of “hard” character required in a Stormers outfit packed with dynamic ball-carriers upfront such as Oli Kebble, Scarra Ntubeni, Du Toit and loose forwards such as Siya Kolisi and Nizaam Carr.
Similarly, Elstadt is an abrasive loose forward who could also operate as a No 4 lock, and it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see him start at openside flank against the Bulls to complement the silky ball and running skills of Burger and Carr.
But now Kolisi - who missed the Jaguares game at the weekend with a slight ankle niggle and trained on his own in Bellville on Tuesday - may have to get up to speed a bit quicker to be ready for the Bulls showdown.
And the Stormers injury list doesn’t end there. Fleck cut a forlorn figure as he announced on Tuesday that young tighthead Wilco Louw is out for six months (knee ligaments), loose forward Rikus Bothma for 12 weeks (knee ligaments) and flyhalf Brandon Thomson for 14 days (ankle), while Damian de Allende (ankle) will return in April and Jaco Taute (knee) in June.
“Look, it’s not ideal, what happened on the weekend. But it is what it is, and we feel that this squad is strong enough and youthful enough to do a good enough job on the weekend,” Fleck said after practice in Bellville on Tuesday.
“Two big injury blows, two similar players in terms of physicality (Kleyn and Elstadt), and they will be missed. But in saying that, we will back the likes of Frans, Scalla, Eben, the guys coming back from injury who missed out on the weekend.
“We’re happy with what we’ve got. JD Schickerling was the shining light from the weekend, and Jan de Klerk did really well. So, we are happy with our lock stocks. The likes of Frans, Juan and Cheslin (Kolbe) are absolutely all in line (for the Bulls game).”