Cape Town - It is a big call to throw a 19-year-old into the cauldron, but Stormers coach John Dobson believes Suleiman Hartzenberg has all the attributes to handle the pressure in tonight’s United Rugby Championship war against the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium (7.15pm kickoff).
The Junior Springbok star was handed the No 13 jersey yesterday as the experienced Ruhan Nel is out with a calf injury that he picked up against London Irish last week.
In addition, No 8 Evan Roos and scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies are sidelined with rib issues, while lock Salmaan Moerat’s knee injury is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear that will keep him out of action for nine months, which has resulted in Ben-Jason Dixon slotting in at No 4.
Hartzenberg and inside centre Dan du Plessis will be up against the well-travelled Bulls midfield combination of Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe, but his blistering pace and anticipation could give the Stormers the edge on attack.
“We took a call earlier in the season to play him against Connacht and Benetton, which are two of the harder teams in terms of defensive pressure and their style – the way they play off 10, in the middle area where he would have to defend, and the way they attack the gate. So, he got through that,” Dobson said about the youngster who hails from Manenberg.
“His demeanour is amazing: a confident, quiet young guy, and if anything, he probably needs to be a bit more full of himself, which is an endearing trait. To play in that 13 spot, which is quite a loud position, you want to be in their faces, you want to be making reads and that sort of stuff.
3⃣ changes and a positional switch as Dan du Plessis, Suleiman Hartzenberg and Ben-Jason Dixon come into our starting line-up for the festive North-South @Vodacom #URC clash.— DHL Stormers (@THESTORMERS) December 22, 2022
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“That will come with time, but jeepers, on attack… We understand on the defence stuff, but on attack, he is an exceptional talent.
“The fact that we can put Suleiman and BJ (Dixon) through this experience is great. I’ve got no doubt that Suleiman is a future backline star of South African rugby.”
With all the injuries, the Stormers have paid a heavy price for their decision to pick their best team for the Champions Cup games, while Bulls coach Jake White rested his first-choice side for the last two weeks.
But Dobson doesn’t believe that tonight’s encounter will determine what the better strategy was.
“I don’t think we will see tomorrow (which policy is best). We’ve lost two Springboks this week, and it’s a credit to this group that we have built up depth that can cover us. That puts us a little bit at ease,” he said.
“We tried to give as many guys caps and a sense of belonging as we could’ve, and then in the Champions Cup, it was important for us to be in the tournament properly and put our best foot forward – we didn’t get that right in Clermont.
“But after the URC win, we’ve got that under our belts… they can’t take that away from us! But the most important thing for us was to build a big squad and depth, despite our constraints, and experience the Champions Cup in Europe.
“They have put a lot of eggs in the basket by resting for the European games. I’m not sure: it may well pay off tomorrow. But the real proof of the pudding – because this is a long-term policy, where we gave caps and used 44 players, used our main squad in the Champions Cup – we will only see later in the season. It’s about the bigger plan to see where we sit at the end of May.”
15 Damian Willemse 14 Angelo Davids 13 Suleiman Hartzenberg 12 Dan du Plessis 11 Leolin Zas 10 Manie Libbok 9 Paul de Wet 8 Hacjivah Dayimani 7 Willie Engelbrecht 6 Deon Fourie 5 Marvin Orie 4 Ben-Jason Dixon 3 Frans Malherbe 2 Joseph Dweba 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Bench: 16 JJ Kotze 17 Ali Vermaak 18 Neethling Fouche 19 Connor Evans 20 Junior Pokomela 21 Marcel Theunissen 22 Godlen Masimla 23 Clayton Blommetjies.