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Stormers need better backline balance

Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu could be an option for the Stormers to replace the injured Leolin Zas. Photo: Steve Haag/INPHO/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu could be an option for the Stormers to replace the injured Leolin Zas. Photo: Steve Haag/INPHO/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Published Jan 11, 2023


Cape Town - The Stormers are facing a backline conundrum for Sunday’s Champions Cup clash against London Irish following an injury to Leolin Zas.

The No 11 trudged off with what looked like a leg injury in the past Sunday’s 24-17 United Rugby Championship (URC) defeat to the Glasgow Warriors, courtesy of wing Sebastian Cancelliere’s late try.

Zas was replaced by Angelo Davids in the 35th minute at Scotstoun Stadium, and coach John Dobson said in the post-match press conference that “there is no doubt his tour is over”.

The Capetonians are already without the injured Seabelo Senatla and Alapati Leiua, but do have youngsters Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Imad Khan as possible replacements for Zas.

But that would require a reconfiguration of the backline, and Dobson has to weigh up a number of possibilities for selection ahead of the London Irish clash at the Brentford Community Stadium (3pm kick-off).

Davids could go straight into the starting line-up at left wing, while the Stormers coach may be thinking of bolstering the team’s overall kicking strategy after he pinpointed poor exits from the 22 as one of the major issues in the defeat to Glasgow.

Fullback Clayton Blommetjies made a couple of mistakes, while flyhalf Manie Libbok and centre Damian Willemse have played a lot of rugby over the last few months and are probably due a break.

But that is unlikely to happen for a Champions Cup game where they are already on tour, so perhaps moving Willemse to No 15 may do the trick in providing an extra strong kicking option at the back.

That would leave a gap in midfield, where Suleiman Hartzenberg could shift back to No 13 from right wing to partner Dan du Plessis.

The other scenario is to keep Hartzenberg at No 14, bring Davids in at No 11 and give Feinberg-Mngomezulu an opportunity at inside centre, with Du Plessis at No 13.

Feinberg-Mngomezulu sustained a tibia (lower leg) injury while on duty for SA ‘A’ against Bristol in November, but was cleared to go on tour with the Stormers last week.

Dobson stated before the Glasgow game that he was thinking of utilising the Junior Springbok captain against London Irish, so selecting him at No 12 – where he has shone before, even though flyhalf is his best position – would bring better balance to the Stormers backline, while also creating an additional kicking option.

Feinberg-Mngomezulu took over the goal-kicking duties from Libbok in some games previously, and that would also take some pressure off the Bok flyhalf.

Dobson wants to see an improvement on defence against Irish too, after Glasgow made a number of line-breaks out wide.

“We were overcommitted to defensive breakdowns. I thought we gave them a few yards on defence when they carried off 10 and off nine,” the Stormers mentor said.

“We weren’t slowing their ball down, and you also don’t want to over-commit another player there. We had to make double tackles to slow it down, and I think we were really poor with that, and their ball was too fast.

“It’s not condition dependent … we failed to exit, but stuck to the way we wanted to play on attack.

“We had plenty of opportunities to attack just outside the 22, and we couldn’t use them, so that wasn’t good enough.

“They knew we were going to come with our line-speed, and they got around us.

“It was just a really bad day at the office against a team that’s really on a roll. If we want to compete properly in this competition, we have to win these games.

“We have to close out these games. Every time we come here, we take losing bonus points, but we are not good at closing them out in these conditions, which is something we have to learn.”