With the Southern Hemisphere’s silly season in full swing, Jan de Koning of Rugby 365 thinks this is a good time to take a look at the role that controversial loose forward Luke Watson will play in the Stormers team next year.
Luke Watson. To some people those two words are profanities, to others he is the ‘people’s player’. It is difficult to say what number or percentage of rugby supporters fall into which group.
It is even more difficult to gauge how coaches – both at national and on the domestic scene – are planning to utilise the outspoken loose forward next year, simply because everybody has taken a self-imposed vow of silence on the subject.
Take Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus as an example. He is not planning to announce his final squad for the Super 14 season until required by SANZAR, early January.
Watson has been part of the extended pre-season training squad and has a senior Stormers contract.
But will he get any actual game time?
Because the Stormers management have avoided the subject and straight-batted all Watson related questions with a ‘he is being treated like every other player’, it is impossible to ascertain what their true feelings are over his controversial ‘puke on the Springbok jersey’ and ‘Dutchmen’ comments earlier this year.
But what we can do is look at his merits as a player, measure him against the other loose forwards in the squad.
The Stormers have seven senior contracted loose forwards and another four back row players on Colts contracts.
Springbok Schalk Burger heads the list of senior players, followed by Cheetahs import Duane Vermeulen, Munster star Justin Melck (due back from Ireland early in the new year), Francois Louw, Pieter Louw, Pieter Myburgh and finally Watson himself.
That is an impressive list of loose forwards.
But, as they say in those annoying TV adds: ‘There is more!’
Former South African age group captain and newly crowned Barbarians loose forward Nick Koster heads the list of Colts – followed by Cameron Peverett, Conraad Britz and Zandre Jordaan.
The Stormers coach, Erasmus, has already hinted that Koster might be used on the wing – an indication that the make-up of his loose forward starting trio is pretty much settled.
So, if I was Erasmus, who would I start with and what role would I have for Watson?
Schalk Burger is the first name on any team sheet – not just for his brute strength, but also his boundless energy and presence, not to mention his experience.
Erasmus would not have imported Duane Vermeulen at great cost from the Cheetahs if he did not plan on using him, meaning the two flank berths are taken.
It leaves Watson to compete with the two Louws – Francois and Pieter – as well as Melck and Myburgh for the final starting spot.
It is debatable if Watson deserves a starting spot on his 2008 form, but he was a regular starter at No.8 in the Currie Cup after he had recovered from a chronic rib injury.
My choice would be Melck, once he returns from his stint with Irish province Munster. He has not only matured significantly in his short spell in European rugby, but in his eight appearances for Munstermen he has left his mark in no uncertain terms – so much so that they are looking at signing him on a long-term contract.
It now means Watson must compete with the two Louws – Francois and Pieter – and Myburgh for a spot on the bench.
Given Erasmus’s penchant for big line-out forwards – and keeping in mind that his two back-up locks, AJ Venter and Hilton Lobberts, are actually retreated loose forwards – it suddenly seems that Watson might be holding a lot of tackle bags at training this coming season.
Of course, Erasmus – one of those Dutchmen Watson so despises – may well have an important role in mind for him.
But until he names his squad in January we can only speculate. Even then, it might not be till he names his first matchday 22 in the pre-season that we’ll get an idea of where the Stormers coach is heading.Tweet