The perennial questions surrounding the Stormers tight five are unlikely to dissipate, but the new-look management team can no longer be accused of ignoring the problem.
There are no massive signings, nor any expected, but an acquisition in early December that slipped under the radar could be significant.
Technical Director Gary Gold succeeded in his efforts to lure 27 year old prop Doug Wheatley from London Irish, and although there aren’t many Cape fans familiar with the name, Gold believes that his impact could outweigh his relative obscurity.
“He joined London Irish in 2001, we took a bit of a risk and signed him as a Boland U21 prop, and he developed phenomenally,” Gold explained to keo.co.za. “He made a conscious decision a few years back to develop his tighthead skills, and he is now an out-and-out prop perfectly comfortable on both sides of the scrum.”
Wheatley’s chief asset is his versatility, making him an ideal bench option, but Gold is quick to emphasise that he will not be stereotyped exclusively as an impact player.
“At 120kg and 6ft2, he’s a big boy, and his scrumming ability has proven to be one of his strengths. He’s working hard on his fitness because the Super 14 will be a lot quicker than the rugby he’s used to.”
Gold will not commit to how Wheatley slots into to the Stormers prop forward hierarchy. A diplomatic “we’re going to have to be disciplined in forcing our rotation policy” is all that is offered.
Analysis of the Cape side’s front row resources, however, reveal that Wheatley should enjoy a measured introduction to Super 14 rugby from the bench.
Eddie Andrews is favoured to reclaim jersey 3 after Gert Smal employed him predominately as a loosehead in last year’s ill-fated campaign. The departures of both Faan Rautenbach and Pat Barnard mean that Andrews will have first crack at the pivotal position.
On the loosehead side, JD Moller should start in jersey 1.
Along with Wheatley, Neil Fullard and Griquas import Attie Winter provide front row cover.