DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee unleashed a surprise on Wednesday when he included Rynhardt Elstadt on the flank for Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby derby against the Vodacom Bulls at Newlands.
Elstadt’s inclusion on the blindside flank means Duane Vermeulen moves to No 8, where he played most of last season, with Nick Koster reverting to an impact substitute’s role from the bench.
Koster made 28 tackles against the Lions last weekend and has struggled to train this week, but Coetzee made it clear that did not weigh on his thinking, meaning that this selection is based around maximising the weight and physicality the Stormers’ pack can bring to the big north/south battle.
“Nick has got a niggle but he will be fit for the weekend. I would never play a player who was not 100% fit, not even from the bench,” said Coetzee.
“Rynhardt’s inclusion on the flank is all about us demanding parity from the pack. We know we are playing a very formidable Bulls pack on Saturday, and we all saw what they did against the championship-winning Reds pack last weekend at Loftus. They destroyed the Reds. With Rynhardt on the flank we feel we are in a position to negate the Bulls’ strengths.”
Elstadt was of course at lock when he made a massive impact against the Bulls last season, and he was as impressive in the derby matches against the Sharks in that position.
However with Eben Etzebeth impressing as the Stormers’ No 4 lock, including Elstadt on the flank has given Coetzee the option of fielding both players in the same game.
“It’s not as though Elstadt hasn’t played flank before. He played there throughout his age-group rugby and he made his Currie Cup debut as a flank. So it’s not as though it’s a new position to him.”
Earlier in the year Coetzee was lukewarm to the idea of playing Elstadt at flank again, but he said that circumstances this year had changed that.
“When you have Etzebeth playing so well at lock and Schalk Burger out of the team because of injury then you do look at what you need for a particular game. We will see after this game whether this is a long-term move or a short term move. Right now this is what we feel we need for this particular game.”
With Elstadt packing down on the flank and the massive Etzebeth, who stands at over two metres tall and has a physique that a Superhero would be proud of, pairing up with the towering figure of Andries Bekker in the second row, the Stormers pack that takes the field on Saturday must come close to being the heaviest to represent the franchise.
But Coetzee doesn’t believe that this fact will impact negatively on the other aspects of his team’s approach.
“We took a look at it and feel that we still have the right mix of athleticism mixed in with the physicality,” said Coetzee.
Elstadt adds further to an already formidable mix of lineout options for the Stormers, with the inability of opposing teams to shut down Andries Bekker and Duane Vermeulen in the formation meaning that we have yet to see the immense promise that Etzebeth has as a lineout forward, and also adds strength to the Stormers’ driving play.
Elstadt started the season late because of injury but has shown in pre-season games that he has quickly regained last year’s form.
The selection of Elstadt and the switch of Vermeulen to his old position at the back of the scrum is the only change to the Stormers’ starting team for Saturday’s game.
However there is one other change on the bench, with Gary van Aswegen injuring his ankle during training this week and replaced by former Bulls and Lions flyhalf Burton Francis.
Stormers team: Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, Eben Etzebeth, Brok Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg, Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Frans Malherbe, De Kock Steenkamp, Nick Koster, Louis Schreuder, Burton Francis, Gerhard van den Heever.