The Vodacom Stormers suffered two major injury blows on the day they announced a 26-man touring squad for the away leg of their Vodacom Super 14 campaign in Langa on Tuesday.
In-form-fullback Joe Pietersen, who has been a revelation thus far this season, has been ruled out for between 4-6 weeks with a hip injury.
Loosehead prop Wicus Blaauw, another who has been in exceptional form, will miss 8-9 weeks of action due to a broken finger. Both players were injured in the 21-8 victory over the Cheetahs on Saturday.
The exciting utility back Gio Aplon will almost certainly play fullback in the coming weeks, although fleet-footed Fabian Juries – an acquisition from the Cheetahs during the off-season, can also cover the position. Aplon made his name as a fullback, but lately plays at the wing.
JC Kritzinger and Argentinean prop Eusebio Guinazu will be battling it out for the No1 jersey with JD Moller providing cover at tighthead.
Pietersen’s absence will be felt, as he’s the team’s designated goal-kicker.
Despite the bad news coach Allister Coetzee was still optimistic – and not only because his side is looking good in the second position on the points’ table. He said he would back the replacement players.
“After the Cheetahs game one was still quite positive that Joe Pietersen would be fine, as it was just a muscle injury. But it is quite an unusual muscle. It is close on the hip, almost like a capsule there,” said the former Springbok assistant coach.
“It is something that will keep Joe out for four to six weeks, but it could also be much quicker than that.
“Wicus has a hand fracture. Obviously it will take much longer for Wicus to recover, between eight and nine weeks. That is a bit of a blow, but like we always say, now there are opportunities for JC and Eusebio.
“For the guys who cannot go on tour, it is a big blow. They would love to be part of this set-up. You could see when they got the news that they would be out for a few weeks, there were almost a couple of tears rolling down the cheeks. But we will back the guys coming in.”
Grant, who missed Saturday’s game after pulling a quadriceps muscle in the pre-match warm-up, was included and will be fit to take on the Force. He will take over the goal kicking duties from Pietersen.
Centre Juan de Jongh, whose elbow injury ruled him out of Saturday’s match, will also be on the plane to Perth.
Youngster Tim Whitehead, who made his debut last Saturday against the Cheetahs, will keep De Jongh on his toes though, as he was also included in the touring party..
Commenting on Aplon, the coach said he was the logical choice at 15. “He does give us options. He did well when he came on at fullback last week. He has played there before in the Currie Cup and Super 14, so it’s not a strange position for him.”