It has been a tough old road on the injury front for Nama Xaba, but Friday’s United Rugby Championship clash against Cardiff will provide the Stormers loose forward a great chance to get his career going again.
The 26-year-old openside flank has had to deal with a couple of serious ankle injuries, and the latest issue was a fractured back.
But Xaba will start at No 6 at Cardiff Arms Park in an important game for the Stormers’ confidence after three defeats in a row on their European tour.
Depth the key against Cardiff
Most of those players should be ready for the forthcoming blockbuster December fixtures against Leicester, La Rochelle, the Bulls and Sharks, but Dobson is hopeful that the Stormers’ depth will carry them to victory against Cardiff.
One of those key figures will be Xaba, in the absence of Springbok star Deon Fourie, who is likely to be back against Zebre next weekend.
“A year or two ago, we saw him as a natural replacement for Deon, and eventually a Springbok six. He’s just got that in him, but a fractured back is a terrible injury, as there is so little training that you can do while you are injured,” Dobson said from the Welsh capital on Thursday.
“It’s not like an ACL, where you can do upper-body stuff. Fetching is a lot about timing and those decisions, and that unfortunately comes with game time.
“One of the challenges – and probably the other SA teams would agree with me – is that we haven’t got another competition going on now, like the Vodacom Cup or SuperSport Challenge or Currie Cup, where you can give players three games before they come up to this level.
“But our game model – which Deon has showed us – is that we need an out-and-out ‘stealer’ (at the breakdowns), and I have no doubt that Nama’s got the potential.
“I do suspect that it’s a bit early in his return, and that is why I want to give him a start – so that he doesn’t have that stress of wanting to make magic in a few second-half minutes, which is a bit cruel.
“When he gets fitter, stronger and injury-free, he will become a classic openside flank.”
Game time for fringe players
Dobson added that it was also “nice” to give some of the fringe players game time, and the likes of prop Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, hooker André-Hugo Venter and scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer can make names for themselves in the clash.
It will also be a memorable occasion for veteran front-rower Brok Harris, who will captain the Stormers at loosehead prop and play in his 400th first-class match.
“I am very privileged. I moved back (to Cape Town) and never thought in my wildest dreams that I would reach the hundred for the Stormers,” the 38-year-old, whose first name is Juan, said.
“Now it’s 400 (in total), so I am very blessed and can’t wait for the opportunity to captain the side, which makes it even more special. But it’s not about me – it’s about performing, and we’ve got a job to do.”
Dobson added: “It’s fantastic. I didn’t know Brokkie before he came back. But getting to know him has been an absolute privilege. I can’t ever speak highly enough about Brok Harris – as a player, the coaching ... His personality, his leadership, his example he sets – an extraordinary human being.
“If something is going to be written down in the record books, there’s nobody finer than Juan.”
Stormers team: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, 11 Ben Loader, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Marcel Theunissen, 7 Willie Engelbrecht, 6 Nama Xaba, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Adré Smith, 3 Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, 2 André-Hugo Venter, 1 Brok Harris (captain).
Bench: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Neethling Fouché, 19 Connor Evans, 20 Hendré Stassen, 21 Keke Morabe, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Warrick Gelant.