A glance through the Stormers squad suggests that outside centre is covered by three Springboks, but with Marius Joubert and De Wet Barry still likely to miss the opening encounter with the Cats, coach Kobus van der Merwe has a poser.
Joubert and Jean de Villiers rotated at 13 throughout the Super 12 last season, but with De Villiers’ subsequent success at international level one closer to the scrum, Van der Merwe has opted to give him first crack at jersey 12.
Keo.co.za revealed the thinking behind the decision weeks ago, when sources confirmed that Barry would be shifted to outside centre. With Joubert expected to be back in time for the opening trip to Johannesburg, Van der Merwe’s dilemma concerned who to leave out rather than who to include.
The situation differs now.
With Barry and Joubert still sidelined, Van der Merwe only has arguably his fourth and fifth choice centres as options.
Bolander Piet van Zyl was horrendous against the Bulls and not much better against the Spears. His poor distribution was especially notable. The other option, the ever-present Gus Theron, did not advance his cause by knocking-on the first ball he received against the Spears – a habit he’s become well associated with.
Defensively, too, Theron is a liability. The defensive pattern employed by the Stormers places particular strain on the No 13, because of the immensity of space the outside centre occupies. Composure and remaining in alignment are critical factors, neither of which Theron has exhibited throughout the last few seasons.
The choice before him does not inspire confidence, and thus Van der Merwe would have been buoyed by the sight of Barry jogging with his team-mates yesterday during the Swellendam training camp.
Speaking to Die Burger, Barry confirmed that he was not giving up hope of starting against the Cats, even though the odds were still in favour of a return against the Waratahs a week later.
“I’m feeling good and believe I’ll be ready, but if not, I will definitely play in the second match,” Barry said.
“It’s not the ideal situation to start the season without playing any warm-up matches, but rather now than in the middle of the season.”
Barry also stressed that he would have little problem slotting in at 13.
“Ive played outside centre on this level before. I played outside centre for the Stormers a few times in 2003 and prior to that in a Test for the Springboks in 2002.
“The defensive lines differ, but you quickly get used to this in training. And I won’t just play on the outside. The plan is that Jean and I rotate depending on the planned move and game situation.”
Barry was typically cautious when asked to assess the squad’s chances in the extended Super 14.
“I don’t want to create too high expectations, but I like the work ethics and team spirit of this squad.
“There are good structures in place and our preparations have been good. Given this background, I believe we can go far.”
The team returns to Cape Town this evening.