The injury of effervescent Springbok flank Schalk Burger has opened the door for controversial loose forward Luke Watson to start at No.8 when the Stormers take on English club Saracens in their first pre-season outing at Newlands on Sunday.
Rugby 365′s Jan De Koning writes that Burger, who is nursing an ankle injury, will start training on Friday and should be fit to play in the second Super 14 warm-up match against Boland in Wellington next Saturday.
However, this week Watson will start at No.8, Duane Vermeulen (earmarked to play at the back of the scrum) will wear the No.7 jersey and Francois Louw will move to the openside flank.
Another pre-season injury sees incumbent Springbok fullback Conrad Jantjes (groin strain) on the sideline and South Africa’s most capped Springbok, Percy Montgomery, starting in the No.15 jersey.
Prop Brok Harris, who went over his ankle at training, is a long-term injury concern. Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus told a media gathering on Wednesday that the front row forward is currently wearing a moon boot and could be out for up to 10 weeks.
Another tighthead prop, JC Kritzinger (who tweaked his knee in training), and back-up lock AJ Venter are also nursing injury niggles that may preclude them from playing on Sunday.
Erasmus said a call on their involvement will be made on Friday.
Flyhalf Willem de Waal will miss both pre-season games, but according to the coach he will be fit for the opening match of the tournament – against the Sharks at Newlands on February 14.
Erasmus and captain Jean de Villiers said they expect Saracens to provide them with a stern test, despite the English club’s squad being split to cater for their European and African continental commitments.
The squad has been split as they chase glory on two continents – with matches in France and South Africa two days apart over the weekend.
The selection of the two squads – to be captained by international locks Steve Borthwick (current England skipper) and Chris Jack (New Zealand) – emphasises the enormous depth in club.
It all starts on Friday, January 23, when Borthwick’s crew play their final European Challenge Cup pool match against Mont de Marsan – while Jack’s team will face the Stormers on Sunday.
The bulk of Jack’s squad, an advance party, will head to South Africa on Wednesday, and the matchday squad for the Mont de Marsan clash fly out to France on Thursday.
“Saracens is a class team with some awesome international talent and a fantastic coach,” said Erasmus told the media.
“They are well into their season and at the top of their game, and will provide us with incredible match preparation for the rigours of this year’s Super 14.”
De Villiers echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“We expect a tough challenge and when you put the [Stormers] jersey on it is always a challenge,” the captain said.
“We are looking forward to playing against the South Africans in their team,” he said, adding that players like Brad Barritt, Wikus Van Heerden and Cobus will add something extra to the game.
“They [the South Africans] know our team better than the English guys, they have some insight [into how the Stormers play].
“It makes it interesting, but it is a pity my good friend Neil de Kock [the injured Saracens and Bok scrumhalf] is not playing.”
The Vodacom Stormers will be playing the match in a unique, special edition jersey. This unique jersey symbolizes just how central the Stormers fans are to the team and the brand.
The Stormers have asked their fans to sign their jersey – collecting enough signatures to turn the jersey blue. Fans can sign the jersey virtually by visiting www.iamastormer.com. The more fans sign up online – the darker the jersey will become.
Stormers: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 Gcobani Bobo, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Sireli Naqelevuki, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Luke Watson, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 JD Moller.
Replacements – form: Deon Fourie, JC Kritzinger, Wicus Blaauw, Hilton Lobberts, AJ Venter/George Earle, Pieter Louw, Bolla Conradie, Joe Pietersen, Dylan Des Fountain, Alipate Fatafehi, Nick Koster.
Date: Sunday, January 25
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 16.00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Mark Lawrence
Touch judges: Joey Salmans, Roderick Barry