Stormers training sessions are beginning to resemble a field hospital in a combat war zone. Hooker Tiaan Liebenberg on Monday became the latest casualty to join the ever-expanding injury list at practice.
Dale Granger reports for IOL.
“It is not good news,” sighed Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus on Monday at the prognosis that Liebenberg, who has been in sparkling form all season, had joined Schalk Burger with a knee-ligament injury, and Tonderai Chavhanga and JD Moller among those wounded in combat.
“We’re not finished with all the scans, but it is a knee ligament. We just do not know the grade, but it is not good news,” said Erasmus, who has now had to fall back on two Vodacom Cup players and Super 14 rookies in Deon Fourie and Pieter Myburgh as back-up on the bench for Saturday’s clash against the Brumbies at Newlands.
Batten down the hatches and all hands to the pumps has become the Stormers mantra with three games to play in the tightest scramble to the semifinals in years.
The good news for the Cape side was that All Black flyhalf Tony Brown had recovered from the rib injury that removed him from the field after 20 minutes in the victory against the Highlanders on Saturday.
But now the 34-year-old Kiwi is having to be carefully managed with a groin niggle and yesterday prop Brian Mujati (foot) and Peter Grant (wrist) both sat out training.
Erasmus confirmed that Robbie Diack would start at No 8 with Luke Watson on the openside flank and Francois Louw at No 7. The front row that started against the Highlanders, Schalk Ferreira at loosehead prop, Schalk Brits at hooker and Mujati in the anchor role is almost certain to start again this weekend.
In the second row, Andries Bekker and Adriaan Fondse look to be the likely pairing and at halfback Ricky Januarie will start with Grant back in the No 10 jersey and Brown on the bench.
What the Stormers can no longer afford are injuries to key players such as Brits, Bekker or captain Jean de Villiers, as they are simply running out of experienced options as replacements.
But with the gruelling demands of the four-month campaign starting to take its toll, players run the risk of injury to tired bodies and burdened psyches.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers must be a worried man as he contemplates his first Tests in the oncoming tours against Wales and Italy and wonders what pool of players will be left from which to select once the Super 14 dust has settled.
For Diack, Saturday’s game may be one of the last he plays at Newlands. The 23-year-old wants to sign for Ulster in Ireland and clearly feels he does not have a future in the Cape.
Erasmus, now with the task of bringing the best out of a young player whose mind may be elsewhere as he ponders his future, tactfully sidestepped the issue yesterday, saying: “We need to get the Super 14 out of the way first and then I will discuss the future with Robbie.”
“We are going to take it easy with Tony (Brown). He is looking fine, but if he does not train this week it will be because of his groin. Brian (Mujati) has a foot swelling and Bash (Grant) a wrist niggle, but it is not a problem,” said Erasmus, elaborating on the surfacing injury crisis that is getting worse with each passing battle.
“The injuries are freakish and are occurring from collisions. Every team in this competition has to absorb five or six injuries at some stage or another,” said Erasmus, whose players will be out on the fairways at a golf day today, seeking to rejuvenate their mental state.
Erasmus’ glass, however, remains half full.
“It is nice and challenging for me, because this is like the ultimate Super 14. Last year the competition was played without 22 All Blacks in the mix for the first seven rounds. Just take for instance Schalk (Burger) and now Tiaan being out and imagine the Crusaders and Hurricanes without seven of their All Blacks and the effect that would have.
“It’s tough losing players, but Naka (Drotske, of the Cheetahs) and Loffie (Eloff, of the Lions) have also had a tough run and as we go into the closing rounds it gets tougher and does not make life easier,” he said.
Probable Stormers team: Conrad Jantjes; Dylan des Fountain, Gcobani Bobo, Jean de Villiers (capt), Sireli Naqelevuki; Peter Grant, Ricky Januarie; Robbie Diack, Francois Louw, Luke Watson, Andries Bekker, Adriaan Fondse, Brian Mujati, Schalk Brits, Schalk Ferreira.Tweet