CAPE TOWN – For a Stormers team desperately in need of some form of confidence booster, the return of star locks Eben Etzebeth and JD Schickerling to face the Bulls this week is a virtual lifesaver.
Following Saturday’s 19-17 reversal to the Brumbies, anything less than a victory against the South African conference leaders could potentially be the death-knell of the Stormers’ 2019 season.
Which is why the availability of the two second-rowers is so crucial.
In a position that was considered a major strength at the beginning of the season, the Stormers are now desperately thin on the ground.
Cobus Wiese (cheek) and Salmaan Moerat (concussion) both left the field before halftime against the Brumbies, forcing Springbok loose forward Pieter-Steph du Toit to move to the second row.
Coach Robbie Fleck could not hide his relief that Etzebeth, in particular, will be ready to face the Bulls, for the Bok enforcer is a colossal figure within the Stormers camp.
He does not only add value in terms of experience and leadership, but due to his immense physical presence, he is the fulcrum around which the Stormers’ driving mauls rotate.
South African Super Rugby derbies are routinely bruising encounters, and the duo’s presence at Newlands will certainly be worth its weight in gold.
“Losing both Cobus and Salmaan was a problem for us, and it is an area where we are starting to look a bit thin. It disrupts everything – the way you want to make changes, any injury in the first half affects your tactical play in the second half,” Fleck said
“Fortunately, we have both JD and Eben returning this week. Considering how hard we have been hit in that position, it is great timing that they return now.”
The Brumbies defeat left the Stormers in last position on the South African conference with 19 points, but Fleck believes the unpredictable nature of this year’s competition still gives his team hope of qualifying for the knockout rounds.
Stormers v Brumbies | Super Rugby 2019 Rd 10 Highlights— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) April 20, 2019
The @BrumbiesRugby with a strong defensive effort until the final whistle, holding off a late @THESTORMERS surge to get the 19-17 victory in Cape Town.#SuperRugby #STOvBRU pic.twitter.com/z0SNEKIvYS
The Bulls are top with 23 points.
“We had a chance to move up to fifth, which is amazing because of the way this conference is working at the moment. There are a lot of surprise results happening.
“This one (Brumbies match) was one we had to win, in terms of keeping momentum and getting to that fourth/fifth place on the log,” the former Bok centre said.
“We have made it tough for ourselves. Now we are in a real fight. Some teams still have to tour, most of the teams from our conference – this conference is wide open.
“Next week is a big one. It is the conference leaders. If we win, we will be on 23 points. With a bonus point, we’ll be on 24. It is a big week.”