The Stormers are “holding thumbs” that star Springboks Conrad Jantjes and Schalk Burger will be fit to face the Sharks in the Super 14 opener at Newlands next Saturday after both players were still unable to take a full part in training on Tuesday.
Stormers media manager Frikkie Erasmus told the Cape Times on Tuesday that Burger (cut on ankle), Jantjes (groin) and tighthead prop JC Kritzinger (knee) could not take contact in the closed practice session in Bellville.
In addition, flank Francois Louw, who started most of the Stormers’ matches in last year’s campaign, has also still not fully recovered from an ankle injury sustained in training last week.
These setbacks follow the rib injury Fijian wing Sireli Naqelevuki suffered against Boland in Wellington at the weekend, which has effectively ruled him out of the Sharks clash.
“They are still all on track with their rehab,” said Erasmus.
“Schalk did some running on his own and took part in certain drills, but he was kept out of those that would have put strain on his ankle.
“Rassie (Erasmus) wants to continue nursing Connie and JC and he is taking it easy with them. The doctor assesses them every day and decides in the morning whether they can train or not. We are holding thumbs that all of them can be ready for the Sharks game.”
Stormers assistant coach Gary Gold told the Cape Times that the Bok duo are “coming along nicely” for the Sharks clash.
“I can’t say that they will definitely be available for the Sharks game, but they are coming along nicely,” he said.
“Flo (Louw) got a good clearance from the doctor and will be training later in the week, while Connie and Schalk did take part in the practices this week.
“I know that they didn’t play in the warm-up games, but I guess it depends on how you look at their absence. Both are internationals and had a heavy year last year, so they have had a good rest,” added Gold, who is also the Bok assistant coach.
It would be a massive blow if Burger, Jantjes and Louw are unavailable. Burger and Louw have high work-rates and can often be seen doing the dirty work at the bottom of rucks, or, in Burger’s case, imposing himself physically on the opposition with thunderous runs and crunching tackles.
Jantjes is the first-choice Bok fullback and brings speed and creative ability to the Stormers backline.
He could also be called on to cover at wing for Naqelevuki, with Percy Montgomery able to line up at fullback.
If Jantjes isn’t fit for the Sharks encounter, head coach Rassie Erasmus may have to turn to rookie wing Nick Koster or new Tongan speedster Alipate Fatafehi, while utility back Joe Pietersen can also fill in at wing.
Gold said that the Stormers management have not yet settled on their final loose trio in what will be a massive challenge against a formidable Sharks unit of Jacques Botes, Jean Deysel and Bok No 8 Ryan Kankowski.
“The Sharks have a fantastic loose trio. Deysel was not voted Newcomer of the Year for nothing, while we know about Botes and Kankowski,” he said.
“We have up to seven loose forwards in the mix. Luke (Watson) is playing great rugby, while Duane (Vermeulen) has also impressed.
“Then we have Schalk, Flo, Pieter Louw and Boetie Britz, as well as Pieter Myburgh, who must still come back from injury. So we will continue to discuss it and see what will work best for the Sharks game.”
With the added emphasis on the breakdown from referees this year, getting the mix just right in the loose trio will be vital for both teams.
“There has been a warning that arriving players must stay on their feet, and when they clean out, they must go past the ball,” said Gold.
“The main reason for this greater emphasis on an existing law is to stop the attacking team from sealing off the ball. So we have been working hard on rectifying the mistakes we made in the two warm-up games.”
With a full-strength Sharks side facing a weakened Bulls outfit in Durban tonight, will there be any Cape spies in the crowd?
“No,” said Gold.
“We wouldn’t learn much from that game anyway because of the Bulls’ second-string team.”
Ashfak Mohamed for www.iol.co.zaTweet