Johannesburg – Flyhalf Willem de Waal is back in training with the Stormers and will be ready to take contact again by the end of the month.
The former Free State Cheetahs pivot has been out of rugby since last August with a neck disc injury similar to the one that ruled Springbok flank Schalk Burger out of the game for the best part of a year in 2006. But De Waal has responded positively to treatment and looks set to start the Super 14 season in the Stormers No10 jersey.
“Willem has been running with the squad, and we are phasing him back in along with some of the other injured players,” said Stormers coach Allister Coetzee after a training session at the WP High Performance Centre in Bellville on Monday.
“He has made a good recovery from his injury, and it is now just a case of easing him back into contact over the next few weeks. We are expecting him to be ready to play again by the end of January.”
That could mean that De Waal will be ready to play in the plum warm-up fixture against the Sharks at Newlands on Friday, 29 January. The Stormers play Western Force in their opening major warm-up fixture at Newlands on 23 January.
Peter Grant slotted in at flyhalf when De Waal was injured during the Western Province Currie Cup campaign, but at this stage it would appear he is in strong contention to wear the No12 jersey previously worn by last year’s skipper, Jean de Villiers, who is now with Munster. The other flyhalves in the Stormers mix are former age-group star Lionel Cronje, who was recruited from Bloemfontein, and Conrad Hoffmann.
Both Cronje and Hoffmann have been injured during the course of the off-season preparations, but are making their way back. Coetzee says he has been impressed with the progress of both players.
The fringe players will be tested when the Stormers take on UCT in a practice match, made up of four chukkas, this coming Saturday.
“We want to give everyone a chance to show what they can do and get an idea of how everyone is fitting into the systems. This will be an ideal opportunity to look at young players like Kallie Visagie,” said Coetzee.
“By the time we get to the Sharks game I want to be in a position to field about 80% of the combination that will play against the Lions in our opening Super 14 match in Johannesburg, and the same for the Force match.”