The DHL Stormers will travel to Polokwane for Saturday’s pre-season friendly against the Bulls with a 26-man squad – a group which includes both captain Jean de Villiers and vice-captain Schalk Burger.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee on Monday revealed a 26-man playing group – made up of 15 forwards and 11 backs – but without a handful of players who are carrying slight niggles.
New lock Manuel Carizza will not travel up country this weekend and neither will props Brok Harris and Pat Cilliers and fullback Jaco Taute.
“Manuel is tight around the groin area. There’s no tear, it’s just tight, but you don’t take chances with that,” Coetzee told www.iamastormer.com ahead of Saturday’s encounter at the Peter Mokaba Stadium (kick-off 17h00).
“Brok got a bump to the thigh so he’s quite stiff and Jaco has tightness as well. He’s out training – and training well – but I had to pull him back last week. The knee is 100 percent; he’s just a bit tight all over.
“I would have loved to have them in the mix, but there’s no need to push these kind of players yet. Pat had a minor operation after the Absa Currie Cup and he will come into the equation next week.
“We have a policy of making sure players have enough game time and we have two games left after this weekend, where after I’d like to have most players to have played between 80 and 120 minutes.”
With the likes of Harris, Cilliers, Carizza and Taute due back in action in the coming weeks, stalwart lock De Kock Steenkamp (groin) could join long-term injury worries Eben Etzebeth (foot) and Cheslin Kolbe (knee) on the sidelines for the start of the 2014 Vodacom Super Rugby season.
“He has a groin injury he’s been battling with since last year, which has been treated very conservatively,” said Coetzee about Steenkamp, “I’m not sure at this stage when he’ll be back. He’s seeing another specialist today (Monday) and we’ll take it from there.”
In the absence of Steenkamp – and Carizza for this week – utility forwards Rynhardt Elstadt and Michael Rhodes will come into the selection equation in the second row, whilst Western Province Under-21 star Ruan Botha could even start this coming weekend.
Looking at his locking and back row options, Coetzee explained: “I definitely see Rynhardt as a lock at this stage.
“Right now we’re battling with depth at lock and we’ll need experience there. Rynhardt is looking very good… he’s a week and a half ahead of where he should have been (after his operation in the off-season). He’ll probably play 40 minutes this weekend.
“Michael (Rhodes) is another player who we’ll look at in the second row position. With Schalk Burger back, we are blessed with excellent loose forward resources. So although I know they can play at No.7, we’ll look at them to play in the second row at this stage.
“Ruan’s (Botha) gone through a full conditioning phase with us and he’s holding up, which is a good sign,” added the DHL Stormers boss. “He’s got a good chance of starting this weekend and it would be good to see how he goes against a quality Bulls line-out.”
Saturday’s Bulls encounter is the first of the DHL Stormers’ three pre-season friendlies (the others being against the Kings and Boland), and Coetzee admitted: “I don’t expect my players to hit the ground running this weekend.
“The focus is internal… it’s on the DHL Stormers… on what we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks, and to see how that pans out under pressure.
“Let me say from the outset that the results of these warm-up matches are not of primary importance, but that does not mean we won’t – or don’t – care about winning (these matches),” added the Stormers coach.
“We have a few objectives in terms of the breakdown, our kicking game… the set-phase (etc, etc) and we want to make sure we achieve those little goals,” he explained.
“Part of the planning is playing away from home, which was done to take the players out of their comfort zone. We also want to use these games to see what the youngsters can do and whether our depth is sufficient. I’ve never been shy to give young players an opportunity and there’s no better opportunity than to play the Bulls away from home.”
* Coetzee will announce his DHL Stormers starting XV – and extended bench – at lunch-time on Wednesday.
DHL STORMERS SQUAD FOR POLOKWANE (26):
Hookers: Scarra Ntubeni, Tiaan Liebenberg
Props: Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Oli Kebble, Justin Ackerman
Locks: Rynhardt Elstadt, Michael Rhodes, Ruan Botha, Jean Kleyn
Loose forwards: Nizaam Carr, Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi, Schalk Burger (vice-captain), Deon Fourie
Scrumhalves: Nic Groom, Louis Schreuder
Flyhalves: Demetri Catrakilis, Gary van Aswegen
Centres: Jean de Villiers (captain), Juan de Jongh
Wings: Damian de Allende, Scott van Breda, Kobus van Wyk
Fullbacks: Gio Aplon, Ryno Eksteen