Despite the imminent arrival of Springbok stalwart Bryan Habana, along with the much improved form of a Gio Aplon and the all-round ability of burly Frikkie Welsh, Fijian flyer Sireli Naqelevuki remains in the picture as a Stormers wing.
Jan de Koning reports for rugby365.com:
In fact Stormers head coach Rassie Erasmus admitted he has a “soft spot” for the Fijian, who cost Western Province dearly when a head-high tackle – the result of a lazy, stiff arm – handed Springbok star Morné Steyn and opportunity to win the Currie Cup semifinal for the Blue Bulls last Saturday.
Steyn duly obliged and slotted a penalty from near 50 metres, at an angle, to see the Bulls advance to face the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup Final, while WP will be watching from the sidelines.
It wasn’t Naqelevuki’s only blunder this year, while his poor work rate and generally disappointing form has seen him become ‘persona non grata’ in Cape Town.
However, Erasmus feels the Fijian could be part of a very exciting backline in the Super 14 next year.
The Stormers, barring any catastrophic injuries, will be able to field a very impressive backline – with Springbok Conrad Jantjes and Joe Pietersen as fullbacks; Habana, Aplon, Nick Koster and Naqelevuki the wing choices; Welsh and Dylan des Fountain as utility backs at centre and wing; Springbok Jaque Fourie, Juan de Jongh, Morgan Newman and Paul Bosch at centre; Willem de Waal, Peter Grant and Lionel Cronjé at flyhalf; with Dewaldt Duvenhage, Enrico Januarie, Bolla Conradie and Conrad Hoffmann as scrumhalf choices.
In such a cluster of players, it would have been expected that an out-of-form wing would drop down the pecking order.
However, he remains in Erasmus’s plans.
“Yes,” Erasmus said, when asked if Naqelevuki was still in the picture for next year’s Super 14.
“I have a real soft spot for Sireli and this last year was just a terrible run for him,” the Stormers mentor said, adding: “Some unfortunate things had happened to him.
“A high tackle is unforgivable, which he did [last] Saturday [to hand the semifinal win to the Bulls]. But nobody knows it better than him.
“We also can’t ignore the six previous infringements that were also three points each time.
“I just think the whole Cape Town set-up, and the intenseness of the people and the fans – it is incredible to work here. It is wonderful how people get involved in the game.
“However, sometimes it can also be a bit tough to perform under that [those circumstances].
“Sireli’s contract is till next year May, and of course he will be involved, but he will have to prove that he is worthy of getting into the starting XV or the matchday 22, like any other player making mistakes on the field. He will have to rectify that.”
Erasmus was also very excited about the role Habana can play.
The Bok wing will join up with the Cape franchise once his obligations with the national team is over.
First he will attempt to win the Currie Cup with the Blue Bulls, when they play the Free State Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on October 31.
Then it is off on the year-end tour with the Boks, before a much-needed break.
However, from January he should be on Stormers duty.
Erasmus said Habana could flourish in the Cape Town set-up, where a player is either a hero or a zero.
“I know him [Habana] very well – I coached him when I was at the Boks – and the guy is an absolute professional,” Erasmus said.
“He doesn’t let anything go to his head, he always works hard. In this province he is the cherry on top and if we get Jaque Fourie – how they can help [players like] Juan de Jongh, Joe Pietersen and Gio Aplon.
“It is starting to become an exciting backline if we select it right – a guy like Juan de Jongh won’t be on the field with just a bunch of youngsters around him.
“It will be a Habana, maybe a Jaque Fourie, a Conrad Jantjes – it is starting to look okay at the backs.”Tweet