WILL HE OR WONT HE: Rumours are that Vermeulen may be headed back to the Stormers. Photo: Kim Ludbrook/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – It’s another season and another title-hunt for the Stormers as they prepare to kick off their 2018 Super Rugby campaign against the Jaguares at Newlands on 15 February.

However, regardless of how optimistic the team and the Newlands faithful must be about the new season and how high the excitement in the camp can be expected to be, the Cape outfit have already had a rather big rock rolled onto their Super Rugby path.

The absence of powerhouse lock Eben Etzebeth due to injury can hardly be seen as a mere pebble in their way. But, as the old saying goes - if one door closes, another one opens.

Etzebeth is set to return in May after being ruled out with shoulder and back injuries.

So, the Stormers will be without the bulky lock for the first part of their Super Rugby season, but that door that has opened to an Etzebeth replacement should be one that gives someone like JD Schickerling a bigger chance to showcase his skill.

Combinations will of course be tested during the Stormers’ two pre-season games against SWD (20 January, Outeniqua Park) and the Bulls (4 February). Another player who can get his season off to a great start is Damian Willemse.

With Robert du Preez’s departure to join the Sharks, Willemse should be sure to enjoy a lot more game time in the No 10 jersey, while George Whitehead - who is on loan to the Stormers - and Joshua Stander (from the Bulls) could provide some backup.

If reports are true and Duane Vermeulen is indeed heading back to the Cape, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder how his presence in the Stormers squad will affect players like Nizaam Carr and Sikhumbuzo Notshe. But looking at the near future - two men who will also be “tested” on Saturday in George (3pm kickoff) are new recruits Sergeal Petersen and Raymond Rhule after being named in Robbie Fleck’s 32-man squad.

Damian de Allende could also feature in the game that will be played in four chukkus, while lock Salmaan Moerat and loose forward Juarno Augustus have also been named for the warm-up clash.

Stormers playing squad:

Christian Ambadiang, Juarno Augustus, Jaco Coetzee, Damian de Allende, Ruben de Villiers, Paul de Wet, Stefan de Wit, Wikus Groenewald, JC Janse van Rensburg, Herschel Jantjies, Eduan Keyter, Dan Kriel, David Kriel, SP Marais, Salmaan Moerat, Dean Muir, Sihle Njezula, Caylib Oosthuizen, Sergeal Petersen, Rikus Pretorius, Raymond Rhule, Carlu Sadie, Ramone Samuels, Chad Solomon, Joshua Stander, Luke Stringer, Kobus van Dyk, Chris van Zyl, Ali Vermaak, George Whitehead, Cobus Wiese, Eddie Zandberg.

IOL Sport

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