The grim spectre of injury loomed large over the Vodacom Stormers camp on Saturday night as coach Rassie Erasmus took stock of the injuries his side wracked up in their superb 20-12 victory over the Hurricanes at Newlands.
Injuries to powerhouse prop JD Moller and in-form winger Tonderai Chavhanga are Erasmus’ major concerns and come at a time when his side has broken into the top four on the Super 14 log for the first time this season.
“I’m not a doctor but they are going for scans. JD (Moller) looks like he’s done his shoulder – dislocated, and Tondie (Chavhanga) has a hamstring strain,” said Erasmus.
“Tondie’s return is difficult to predict, but JD, I reckon, will be two out for at least two weeks.
“It was a satisfying win but we’re worried about the two injuries.”
The two injuries struck in the space of 10 minutes first half and there was no let-up for the ever-improving Stormers when lock Andries Bekker and tighthead prop Brian Mujati cried off with exhaustion and injury respectively in the second half.
Bekker, one of Saturday’s try-scorers, has produced several stellar performances for the resurgent Stormers this season and was withdrawn from the action early in the second half.
“Andries (Bekker) told me at halftime he was feeling drained, and I was pleased that he told me that because I could then bring on fresh legs in Ross Skeate,” said Erasmus.
“He’s (Bekker) had a tough season, and has been giving his all in every time he plays.”
Near the end of the match the Stormers lost a second prop when Mujati suffered cramps. With the only reserve prop Brok Harris already substituting for Moller, reserve hooker Tiaan Liebenberg was called up for front row duty.
However, since the Stormers could not provide the two specialist props, uncontested scrums were set in the last few minutes of the match.
“Brian (Mujati) had cramps. I think it’s tough for a guy who’s usually a tighthead and hasn’t really played loosehead (prop) at any level. He had bad cramps and his hamstrings was troublesome at the end, and couldn’t continue.”
Of the three match injuries, Moller’s is the most worrisome as he has been a tower of strength in the scrums.
“JD’s injury is a huge setback to the team. He plays a big part in our set-up,” Erasmus explained. “It’s disappointing because JD has been playing good rugby. He’s got a great work ethic.
“The scrums were closely contested throughout this game, but I feel were looking very strong when JD was still on the field. We had a lot of go-forward then.
“There were good match-ups at the breakdowns among the loose forwards, and I don’t believe any side really dominated. That’s why the score wasn’t very high.
“”At one stage they were really coming at us. We had to deal with plenty of pressure, and once they scored their first try they really stepped up their game.
“We had to deal with individual brilliance and they (the Hurricanes) were the most physical opponents we’ve come up against this season. “It’s satisfying to know we came out on top. They are a quality side.” The Stormers have a torrid time with props this season after injuries to Springbok Eddie Andrews and Schalk Ferreira.
Andrews who has a lower back problem may return to action in the second half of the Currie Cup season.
The news of Ferreira is far more encouraging, since he’s had recent game time at club level.
He’s likely to be called up to the Stormers’ next match-day squad. Erasmus can also call up the burly Wikus Blaauw who went on tour with the Stormers a few weeks ago, although he did not get game time. Blaauw had an outstanding season with WP juniors last year, when the ‘Streeptruie’ won the national Under-21 title.
While Saturday’s victory has prompted plenty of speculation about the Stormers’ chances of reaching the 2008 play-offs, Erasmus shot down talk of his side’s rise to fourth position on the latest Super 14 log.
“Nobody remembers who was number four on the log after round ten last year,” he said. “We’ve still got plenty to do to ensure we’re in the top four at the end of round thirteen.”
Next week the Stormers will host another New Zealand outfit, the Highlanders, who were thumped by the Bulls on Saturday when they turned in their best performance of the season, en route to a resounding 47-17 victory.
The Highlanders have only one win after nine matches this season and this clash may tempt Erasmus to apply the player rotation policy generously.
“No Super 14 match is easy. The Highlanders have nothing to lose and will be playing for pride,” Erasmus argued.
Apart from the Highlanders, there are tricky hurdles ahead at Newlands when the Brumbies and the Warathas arrive at a time when race for play-off berths will reach its climax.