Gavin Rich reports from Cape Town that the Vodacom Stormers have shelved plans to shield Luke Watson from the Bulls and the Loftus crowd, and the controversial loose-forward will definitely start regardless of whether Schalk Burger recovers from his calf injury.
Burger is involved in a race against time to prove his fitness for the big Vodacom Super 14 showdown between the traditional southern and northern rivals. The word from the Stormers camp is that he will be given until Thursday, but it does not look good. Burger did not train with his teammates on Monday and the injury is reportedly still very painful.
But if Burger does play, it will again be at the expense of Francois Louw, and not Watson. The Stormers management had been giving a lot of consideration on how to manage Watson’s matches against South African opponents, where it was feared that his presence might provide extra motivation to the opposition and perhaps attract a few low blows.
Watson, following his comments about the Springbok emblem last year and his alleged anti-Afrikaans sentiments expressed at a forum discussion at the University of Cape Town, is not the most popular rugby player in the country outside of the Cape.
But coach Rassie Erasmus, after initially being concerned at the prospect that Watson might be jeered by the Loftus crowd, now reasons that his team will get a chilly reception from the Pretoria fans regardless of whether or not Watson is present. And if the Bulls players tried to get at Watson, it would mean they take their eye off the ball, and this could play into the hands of the Stormers.
Apart from that, Watson has been impressive in his last two games, and with Burger struggling with form at present, Watson may even be the more valuable player right at this moment.
The other injury problems facing the Stormers going into this week concern Conrad Jantjes, who is still struggling a bit with his own calf injury, and the two props, Brian Mujati and JD Moller. The last two mentioned players are being managed carefully this week, but are expected to play, while Erasmus will have to make a decision between Jantjes and Montgomery.
One almost certain change will come at flyhalf, where Willem de Waal is set to take over from Peter Grant.
Erasmus hinted last week that De Waal might play against the Bulls, and the indications are that he is to start in Pretoria, with his main brief being to play the Bulls back into the corners. From there the Stormers will attempt to suffocate opponents who are never as assured if they are denied momentum and field position.
Fourie du Preez heads a Bulls tactical kicking game which has again been the main thrust of that team’s success so far this season, and De Waal’s selection can be seen as an attempt by the Stormers to answer kind with kind. There is also of course the small matter that De Waal has won at Loftus in important Currie Cup games, including a final.
Probable Stormers team: Conrad Jantjes/Percy Montgomery, Tonderai Chavhanga, Gcobani Bobo, Jean de Villiers (captain), Sireli Naqelevuki, Willem de Waal, Ricky Januarie, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Luke Watson, Andries Bekker, Adriaan Fondse, Brian Mujati, Schalk Brits, JD Moller.Tweet