CAPE TOWN - The Stormers are set to head into this Super Rugby season without an experienced flyhalf, yet again, in what could prove to be a high-risk move.
For most coaches ahead of a new season, the first name down on the squad sheet is most often a match-winning flyhalf, and yet the Stormers are set to start their 2018 campaign without a tried and test pivot.
By all accounts, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck appears poised to hand 19-year-old Damian Willemse the No 10 jersey, but the stocks are rather thin beyond that.
Of course, Willemse is one of the most promising young players in South African rugby, but this is set to be his first full Super Rugby season as a frontline player, and it's interesting that the Stormers' brains-trust have not placed a greater priority on ensuring that there is at least one established player in this position.
Towards the end of last year, Currie Cup star Rob du Preez left Western Province to join the Sharks, while experienced Kurt Coleman is now with the Kings. Youngster Brandon Thomson also left the Stormers and Western Province last year to join the Glasgow Warriors.
To make matters more complicated, the highly-regarded Jean-Luc du Plessis is still recovering from a serious hip injury, and is likely to miss at least the first four rounds of the Stormers' Super Rugby campaign.
Besides backing Willemse as the first-choice flyhalf, the Stormers' only other options would be to turn to inexperienced Joshua Stander or journeyman George Whitehead.
It does beg the question as to why the Stormers have continually battled to find an experienced and reliable flyhalf to take the team forward, although they are desperately hoping that Willemse will be that man.
At all levels of the game over the years, flyhalves have been at the heart of success of some of the most successful teams. Names that immediately spring to mind at international level include Dan Carter (New Zealand), Jonny Wilkinson (England) and Stephen Larkham (Australia), while locally the likes of Naas Botha and Morné Steyn have gone down in Bulls folklore.
More recently, Elton Jantjies has become a talismanic figure for the Lions as they've reached back-to-back Super Rugby finals.
It now remains to be seen whether the Stormers will successfully pass the test of their fragile flyhalf depth.
African News Agency (ANA)