Niggle keeps Joe benched

Joe van Niekerk has told keo.co.za a slight niggle will keep him from starting at No 8 for the Stormers against the Blues in the Vodacom Super 14, but there is no serious concern.

Speaking from the team’s hotel in Auckland, Van Niekerk explained he picked up the knock in training on Monday.

“I haven’t had contact in a long time, and was quite stiff on Saturday following the game,” Van Niekerk said. “On Monday at training we had a contact session, and as I was accelerating through a gap I was pulled back by my jersey and tweaked a muscle. I’ve been taking it easy since, just physio and gym, and I felt that because I haven’t been training with the side this week it wouldn’t be right to start.”

Van Niekerk said that Stormers coach Kobus van der Merwe endorsed his decision.

“I had a chat to the coach, and he agreed that there’s still a lot of the season to come and it’s pointless risking serious injury again. Again I’ll look at coming on for about 20 minutes, but I don’t want to push it. If the strain is still there on Friday then I’ll pull out, because I don’t want to jeapordise anything. Obviously, though, it would be lovely to get more game time.”

Van Niekerk’s impact in his return fixture after a six month layoff against the Force was immediate, and Van Niekerk described the feeling of running out again as “awesome”.

“You can never really judge if you’ve had a cracker in 20 minutes, unless you’ve scored five tries, but it was just good to be in an arena again. It’s what I love doing, and playing in front of 25 000 people was great.”

Van Niekerk’s niggle means that the first-choice loose trio of Van Niekerk, Schalk Burger and Luke Watson will in all likelihood only be reunited for a full match for the Chiefs encounter in a week.

“There was a lot said about the combination last year, and it didn’t come to the fore unfortunately. There’s a real buzz about it this year though, and I can’t wait to play with Schalk and Luke again. We had a taste against the Force, where I took the ball up, Schalk cleaned and Luke scored the winning try. Already we are playing more as a combination than individuals, and that bodes very well for the rest of the season.”

STORMERS SIDE TO PLAY BLUES

15. Joe Pietersen
14. Tonderai Chavhanga
13. De Wet Barry (c)
12. Jean De Villiers
11. Marius Joubert
10. Naas Olivier
9. Bolla Conradie
8. Adri Badenhorst
7 Schalk Burger
6. Luke Watson
5. Gerrie Britz
4. Andries Bekker
3. Eddie Andrews
2. Hanyani Shimange
1. JD Moller

Subs

16. Schalk Brits
17. Neil Fullard
18. Henk Eksteen
19. Joe Van Niekerk
20. Neil De Kock
21. Peter Grant
22. Jongi Nokwe

By Chris Hewitt