CAPE TOWN - SP Marais’ fitness could influence the Stormers’ game against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday (8.35am kickoff). And it could be a very heavy influence at that.
In the midst of another injury situation that will keep first-choice flyhalf Damian Willemse out of action after he suffered a haematoma to his quad against the Waratahs in Sydney, Dillyn Leyds has been named at flyhalf for the Stormers' second match on tour. But it could be George Whitehead running out in the position of the general in New Zealand.
Head coach Robbie Fleck on Thursday confirmed that Marais - who was named at fullback - suffered a knock during training and that they would make a call on his availability on Friday.
Should Marais not be fit, Leyds will move to fullback in the place of Marais, while Whitehead stands in at No 10. Leyds filled in at flyhalf on tour to New Zealand last year following injury to Robert du Preez, and he also played in the No 10 jersey against the Blues after that tour.
And when asked about Leyds’ selection at flyhalf, Fleck said: “He played for us last year against the Blues when we won at home, so he’s done a good job for us is the past there. With Dillyn’s experience, even though George has done extremely well during the warm-up games, we felt that it will make a difference at 10. We just felt Dillyn is the right man for the job.
“SP Marais took a knock during training, so there’s question marks in the air. We’re going to make a call on SP on Friday and should he not be available we’re going to have to reshuffle again. If SP is out George Whitehead will come back into the starting line up and take the kicking duties, otherwise Dewaldt (Duvenage) will have to kick to goal."
In other changes to the backline, Seabelo Senatla returns to the matchday squad to take Leyds’ place on the wing, while EW Viljoen will start at outside centre in the place of the injured JJ Engelbrecht.
Up front, loosehead prop JC Janse van Rensburg comes in for Steven Kitshoff, as the Springbok prop drops to the bench. The other change to the pack sees Cobus Wiese return to the starting line-up at blindside flank, while Kobus van Dyk will provide cover on the bench.
With everything that Kitshoff offers, I’d say he isn’t the type of player that should be benched if not necessary. But given the fact that the Crusaders are masters at performing for 80-plus minutes and have the ability to produce firing performances in the last quarter, having someone like Kitshoff - who’s been superb as an impact player for the Boks - on the bench isn’t a bad call, especially seeing that Janse van Rensburg was massive in his scrummaging when he came on against the Jaguares.
“The Crusaders are strong finishers, as we saw last week when they put 45 on the Chiefs, so it’s good to have an experienced and mobile guy like Kitshoff to provide impact off the bench,” Fleck said about the rotation in the front row.
Fleck also explained that Wiese’s physical presence would make a good addition to the team, after he missed out on a starting berth last week.
“The Crusaders are known for their scrums and their lineouts, they’ve got a good tight five that will put you under pressure. So we felt that Cobus is better suited in that role. There’s certainly going to be a lot of battles up front,” he said.
And after a disappointing loss to the Waratahs at the Sydney Football Stadium, Fleck said that they’re excited to go up against the defending champions in their own backyard.
“We’re going out there to get as many points as we can on tour and we certainly know the challenge that the Crusaders will bring. But we’re excited and it’s a good challenge for our boys," Fleck said.
“We’re looking to challenge the best teams in the competition consistently. This gives us an opportunity to challenge the defending champions in their own backyard.
“They don’t make a lot of mistakes and there’s nothing fancy about them - it’s just good, honest hard work. They work hard for each other and they’ve got a great culture. They probably have the best defence in the competition.
"They do the fundamentals of rugby extremely well, and that’s why they’re the champions. They don’t have a lot of weaknesses. Every team wants to go out there and get one over them and we’re certainly one of those teams and we’re looking forward to Saturday night.”