Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and Elton Jantjies all took a full part in DHL Stormers training on Monday, giving coach Allister Coetzee a pleasant selection headache.
The DHL Stormers, fresh from an 18-16 win over the Hurricanes, returned to their Auckland base on Saturday and hit the training ground on Monday to prepare for this Friday’s Super Rugby meeting with the Blues in Albany.
Their tour-opening win aside, coach Coetzee had a boost of another sort when Etzebeth (ankle), Kolisi (a late withdrawal from the Blues match with groin stiffness) and Jantjies (knee) all trained fully.
“Everyone trained today,” confirmed Coetzee from Auckland on Monday morning (SA time), “it was quite a good day for us.
“All the players, with the exception of Siya, took part in the full warm-up before the Hurricanes match on Friday. Siya joined us (at training) today, so that’s great news.”
The return of Etzebeth and Kolisi does offset the loss of Michael Rhodes (ankle – syndesmosis) somewhat, but it does mean that Coetzee and his coaching staff have some tough selection calls to make (along with Jantjies’s return to fitness) this week.
Speaking about Etzebeth’s return, Coetzee explained: “There will be rustiness there, but that’s to be expected. As a tight forward you need a few games under your belt before you hit that zone. He’s still a young guy and I know he’s itching to play… but hopefully when he gets an opportunity this weekend he doesn’t show (a lot of rustiness).”
When asked whether he would start with Etzebeth against the Blues, Coetzee added: “I think it would be unfair to start him. For starters, I don’t think one of De Kock (Steenkamp) nor Andries (Bekker) deserve to sit out, so one has got to be careful.
“Eben needs a few minutes, but it will be a process just like with Scarra Ntubeni. I don’t think he could handle more than 40/50 minutes at this point in time, so we’d look to ease him in (at this stage). If he’s on the bench we would look to stay within those boundaries.”
De Kock Steenkamp – who recently signed a contract extension with Western Province Rugby – has been a standout performer in the No.4 jersey and his form has been a major boon for his team this season. “I think De Kock exemplifies what opportunity means,” said the DHL Stormers boss.
“You can’t be ready once you get an opportunity – you must be ready before you get it and De Kock has done that. When the opportunity came his way to put his hand up, he did just that. He’s been playing consistently well; every game and every training session. It says a lot about the player.”
Coetzee, meanwhile, is expecting a tough game against the Blues in Albany on Friday (09h35 SA time).
Both teams have played eight games (both winning four and losing four), but the Blues are four points ahead of the DHL Stormers on a jam-packed overall Vodacom Super Rugby log.
“This is a very good Blues side – I’ve noted the way they’ve performed (against the Reds),” he said. “They’re a difficult team to stop once they settle into a rhythm, so we need to be at our best defensively and we need to dominate the collisions – as you have to do against any New Zealand team.”