Life without Schalk Burger was not something that the Vodacom Stormers would have wanted to have to contemplate at this crucial juncture of the Vodacom Super 14 season.
Gavin Rich writes for Superrugby that coach Rassie Erasmus conceded that it was a massive blow to his team, and he might well remember what happened to Jake White’s Springboks in the two games they played immediately after Burger was ruled out with a neck injury in 2006 – a first ever defeat on South African soil to France at Newlands, followed by a 49-0 defeat to Australia in Brisbane.
However, while the injury toll is mounting, with Tony Brown also possibly destined to join Burger, Tonderai Chavhanga and JD Moller on the sidelines, Erasmus is a clever coach and he knows that he does still have options. And he has not forgotten that Burger was out suspended for two games earlier in the competition, and the Stormers weren’t all that shabby in his absence.
“I suppose we should be thankful that the suspension of Schalk did give us a preview of what we can expect when he is not around,” said Erasmus after the 26-16 win over the Highlanders and confirmation of the seriousness of Burger’s injury.
In the first game the Stormers played after Burger was suspended for dissension following a yellow card in the second half against the Sharks in Durban, the Stormers lost 22-0 to the Crusaders in Cape Town. However, the Stormers played a lot better in that match than the scoreline would suggest, and the Stormers were in fact without both their star fetchers in that game as Luke Watson missed the game through flu.
Watson returned to the team for the following match against the Reds, where he was probably the pick of the Stormers players as he moved back into his old No6 jersey in Burger’s absence. In fact, he played so well that there was speculation that Erasmus might keep him at openside flank and move Burger to No8 for the next match against the Chiefs.
The Stormers won well against the Reds without Burger, so there is no reason why they shouldn’t do the same against another Australian team, the Brumbies, at Newlands this coming weekend. The question though for Erasmus is whether he does the obvious by returning Watson to openside flank and installing Robbie Diack at No8, or continues with Watson at No8 and brings in Pieter Myburgh, who played against the Crusaders, as the No6.
The first option would appear to be the more obvious one, particularly as Diack has impressed in his appearances on the field as a substitute No8 over the past few weeks. He is a good runner and handler and is very much in the classical No8 mould as a cover defender and link between forwards and backs.
The other selection posers for Erasmus are in the front row, where he may be tempted to play Brian Mujati at loosehead ahead of Schalk Ferreira. Hooker Tiaan Liebenberg was man of the match against the Highlanders, but Schalk Brits issued a telling reminder of his capabilities when he came on.
With Burger absent, his game-breaking abilities may be crucial against the Brumbies and the Waratahs, and the big thing about Brits’ game these days is that the primary aspects of his play have improved out of sight.
The Stormers will find out on Monday whether flyhalf Brown will be available this week. The Kiwi left the field with painful ribs, but as Erasmus pointed out, his outlook will depend on whether the problem is a rib or a cartilage. If the latter, then he should be able to play again almost immediately. Brown kicked three well taken penalties before leaving the field.Tweet