The Sharks aren’t the only South African conference contenders facing a tricky away opener in Super Rugby – the Stormers will head up to Loftus to play the somewhat resurgent Bulls, sporting a forward combination that will be somewhat less formidable than they would have hoped.
There’s good news, though, at the back, in the form of Elton Jantjies’ return to the squad after compassionate leave. The Lions flyhalf, with the Stormers for Super Rugby, has been away from Cape Town following the tragic loss of his father to a bee sting, but is now back and will be available for the Bulls game. He’ll slot into a pacey and powerful backline containing any number of attacking threats, but it’s up-front where the the Stormers will be tested, particularly given that their Super Rugby gameplan is more oriented to smash than flash.
The loss of Eben Etzebeth for 6-8 weeks knocks a huge hole in their “engine” and with Tiaan Liebenberg also out, those sceptics of the Cape’s up-font credentials may be tempted to recall the “light five” days of yore. Sure, they’ve been bolstered by the addition of Pat Cilliers from the Lions, but their other import, Michael Rhodes, is still on the crocked list, meaning likely game time for both Don Armand and De Kock Steenkamp, neither of whom exactly sets the world alight in the physicality stakes.
What’s more, there’s still little clarity about the role Schalk Burger will play in the opening fixture. The Bok flank has been on the sidelines for what seems like years now and is still not quite ready to play, although he’s slated for a return to practice this week. Whether coach Allister Coetzee will risk his recovery by throwing him straight in against the Bulls remains to be seen.Tweet