CAPE TOWN – Stormers coach Robbie Fleck is confident that the lock pairing of JD Schickerling and Chris van Zyl have what it takes to step in for Springbok lock duo Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit when they host the Jaguares at Newlands tomorrow (3.05pm kickoff).
Schickerling and Van Zyl will start at No 4 and 5 respectively in the absence of Etzebeth - who is recovering from a shoulder injury that could keep him on the sidelines for four months, and Du Toit, who is struggling with a back injury and failed a fitness test this week.
And although it’s obviously not ideal to go into any contest without the Bok-lock pairing, Fleck said that he’s “certainly backing” the combination of Schickerling and Van Zyl.
“He (Du Toit) didn’t pass his fitness test. He’s been struggling with his back for some time now. He injured his back again during training last week and he hasn’t trained at all this week. But hopefully he’ll be good to go on tour,” Fleck said.
“These are the starting Currie Cup locks - JD Schickerling started last year and Chris van Zyl led the side to Currie Cup victory, so I’ve got no doubt that in terms of what they can do. They’ve played plenty of Super Rugby last year for us as well. Obviously Eben and Pieter-Steph are big losses for the team, but we certainly back whoever comes in their positions. “
In the backline, Raymond Rhule will make his Stormers debut on the left wing, while JJ Engelbrecht, Carlu Sadie and George Whitehead - who is on loan from Griquas - could make their first Stormers appearances if they come off the bench this weekend.
Fleck said that he is excited to see how Rhule, along with the three other players on the bench, will go tomorrow.
“Raymond is a pretty exciting player for us, he’s got a lot of speed and he’s a great finisher. He’s fitted in greatly and the boys enjoy him,” he said.
“Carlu Sadie is a young kid, he played Under-21 last year with the winning WP side. I thought he played well against the Bulls in the warm-up. It’s a big challenge for him - especially against the Jaguares who are known for their scrummaging - but he’s exceeded our expectations in the off-season.
“George has impressed us during the pre-season as well. He’s a skilful player and his game sense is outstanding, and he’s nice and calm on the ball. JJ is an experienced campaigner, he’s been brought in to add a bit of size and pace to the backline.”
The Stormers’ backline for their Super Rugby opener is certainly an exciting one, and one player who doesn’t slack when it comes to producing exciting moments is Dillyn Leyds. But, according to Fleck, Leyds will be crucial for more than just his X-factor this weekend.
“To have Dillyn’s calmness at the back and the way he’s been going gives us a lot of confidence. He’s a leader in the group and he’s going to be a big decision-maker in terms of what we get up to on the weekend,” Fleck said.
“From a combination point of view they’re (the back three) a little bit green in terms of knowing each other, but each one has his different strengths and they’re certainly going to add value to the way we want to play. It’s going to be exciting seeing what they can do, especially in broken play, so we’re pretty excited to see how these three go.”
Meanwhile, Warwick was yesterday confirmed as associate sponsor and wealth partner of both the Stormers and Western Province.
Western Province Rugby Group chief executive, Paul Zacks, welcomed Warwick and said that the union were excited to be linked to the investment brand.
“It is our pleasure to welcome Warwick to the fold here at Newlands, we are very excited to be associated with another top brand. Warwick are leaders in their field, which makes them a good fit with our teams and the rest of our valued sponsors and partners,” Zacks said.
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 George Whitehead, 23 JJ Engelbrecht.