CAPE TOWN – With the Stormers kicking off their Super Rugby campaign against the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday, Zaahier Adams takes a closer look at the loose-forward options at coach Robbie Fleck’s disposal.
Position: No 8
Candidates: Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Juarno Augustus
There may still be some Stormers fans moping around that former captain Duane Vermeulen did not return to Newlands after his spell at Toulon, but with the Springbok No 8 having joining arch-rivals, the Bulls instead, it only adds further spice to an already captivating contest on Saturday.
Vermeulen will most likely face fellow Bok Sikhumbuzo Notshe at Loftus. Although youngster Juarno Augustus had the better of a slightly-off-the-pace Vermeulen in their superhero clash at Cape Town Stadium a couple of weeks ago, Notshe should be the front-runner for a starting berth at Loftus.
He possesses almost basketball-like handling skills and nifty footwork that would not be in out of place on a ballroom dance floor.
Crucially, though, Notshe has added a great deal of physicality to his play after bulking up in the off-season, while he remains a major asset on the ground come turnover time.
Augustus, meanwhile, is built for the physical stuff and is the closest the Stormers have to matching Vermeulen in helping his team get over the advantage line through big ball carries.
The former World Rugby Under-20 Player of the Year, though, is much more than just a bully, as he runs good lines off the flyhalf channel and is surprisingly quick for such a burly ball player.
There is no doubt that Augustus will be handed a start sometime during the Super Rugby season, but for such a high-profile opening game in the cauldron of Loftus, Fleck should call on Notshe.
Position: No 7
Candidates: Pieter-Steph du Toit and Jaco Coetzee
With strongman Eben Etzebeth only expected back in the second week of Super Rugby, Pieter-Steph du Toit is the undoubted enforcer of the Stormers pack. The current South African Player of the Year’s work rate is immense both on defence and attack with Du Toit making numerous tackles, hitting rucks with gusto and adept with ball in hand.
Managing his workload in a World Cup year will be a priority going forward, but he is ready to be unleashed at Loftus on Saturday. Meanwhile, after a good Currie Cup season with Western Province last season, Jaco Coetzee, will provide adequate cover on the bench as he can pack down either at the back or side of the scrum.
Position: No 6
Candidates: Siya Kolisi, Kobus van Dyk and Cobus Wiese
It has been a taxing past few months for Bok and Stormers captain Siya Kolisi after his comments to a Japanese-based rugby writer. Kolisi must probably be relieved that the talk can return to what he actually does on the green turf and between the white lines.
But as the saying goes “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and Kolisi has hopefully learnt from that escapade and is ready to play with his heart on his sleeve again like he has always done for his beloved Stormers.
Equally, like has been said before, it’s a World Cup year and Bok coach Rassie Erasmus will need his skipper to be in form and playing good rugby when the national team assembles later this year.
By his own admission, Kolisi’s form dipped towards the end of last year due to the pressures associated with arguably the most high-profile job in South Africa alongside the national presidency. He will want to raise his level of performance, and there is no better place to start than in the Bulls’ kraal.
Van Dyk will have to wait for his opportunity, while Wiese - a fine lineout option at the tail - is currently on the injured list.@ZaahierAdams