The Vodacom Stormers have been boosted ahead of Thursday’s departure for New Zealand by the news that Andries Bekker will be available for the last match of their five match overseas tour.
It was initially believed that Bekker’s injured toe would keep him from touring, but the Stormers medical team have worked around the clock over the past few days getting specialist opinion. Late on Wednesday Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus was informed that Bekker will be able to play in the last game against the Highlanders.
“We had thought he would be out of the whole tour, which was why he wasn’t part of our initial selection, but I received good news this afternoon. Andries will be able to play in our last game on tour and then in the three matches we play back in South Africa after that,” said Erasmus.
“He is an important player to us, not just for his enormous work-rate, but also because of what he offers in his role as one of the team leaders. So having him available, even if it is just for part of the tour, is a big boost for us. It effectively means he will miss just four matches, which is much better than initially thought.”
The squad flies out on Thursday and will play their first match of the tour against Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday week (28 March). Also in the group departing on Thursday will be hooker Tiaan Liebenberg, who has sorted out his visa requirements and will be ready to take a full part in the tour.
Although Schalk Ferreira will also travel and can play both hooker and prop, Liebenberg, who last played for the Stormers last April before being released to play for French club Toulon, Liebenberg will be the official back-up for Schalk Brits.
His return to the Cape adds balance to the front-row resources as he is one of the better scrumming hookers around and will be able to add substance to that aspect of the Stormers game when it is deemed necessary.
Erasmus is upbeat about the tour even though he does concede that the absence of Bekker for the first three games will be felt. He is likely to play Adriaan Fondse and AJ Venter as the second row combination against Crusaders, with Fondse operating as the No5 lock in Bekker’s place.
Although Erasmus has made the point that most of his backline players can play more than one position, and that even includes Willem de Waal, who has played fullback for the Bulls, he is likely to start against the Crusaders with the backline combination that played most of the game against the Lions.
That means De Waal will continue at flyhalf, with Peter Grant at inside centre, and Gcobani Bobo playing on the wing, where he has done well for the Sharks in the past. He will have to make a choice between Conrad Jantjes and Percy Montgomery at fullback now that the Springbok incumbent, Jantjes, has recovered from his injury.
Erasmus said the tour squad had been limited to 24 players as he wanted it to be adjustable should players return from injury. For instance, Tonderai Chavhanga is due to return from his hamstring injury after two or three weeks, but there is no saying whether he will be back that quickly as the recovery period for hamstrings is difficult to predict.
Stormers tour squad: Adriaan Fondse, AJ Venter, Brian Mujati, Conrad Jantjes, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Dylan des Fountain, Francois Louw, Gcobani Bobo, Hilton Lobberts, JD Moller, Jean de Villiers, Luke Watson, Morgan Newman, Percy Montgomery, Peter Grant, Ricky Januarie, Schalk Brits, Schalk Burger, Schalk Ferreira, Sireli Naqelevuki, Tiaan Liebenberg, Wicus Blaauw, Willem De Waal.