Springboks Ricky Januarie and Jean de Villiers will go into the Super 14 cold – but Stormers assistant coach Allister Coetzee doesn’t believe this is a problem.
The Stormers recently cancelled their second warm-up match against a WP Invitation side, citing the risk of injury as a chief concern. The Cape franchise will meet the Bulls on 16 February having played only one friendly against Boland, a fixture that excluded many of their top players. Besides Januarie and De Villiers, Ross Skeate, Brian Mujati and Conrad Jantjes all missed the Wellington game but were expected to play at Newlands this Saturday.
Coetzee told keo.co.za the axing of the Province game is by no means a setback.
“We’ve still been putting the guys through their paces with some heavy contact sessions and the they also came through a recent practice game against Maties really well,” he said. “Sometimes match sharpness cannot be attained even if you play five or six warm-up games, so we can’t say we are one game short. We are happy to have played one game and are happy with where we are in our preparations.”
Coetzee confirmed De Villiers, the new Stormers skipper, is ready to play after tearing his bicep at the World Cup against Samoa. Skeate and Jantjes has shrugged off their respective injuries and are taking full contact, while Mujati is at around 85% and should be back to full fitness next week.
Coetzee has also been impressed by former Lions scrumhalf Januarie, who will battle it out with Bolla Conradie for the No 9 position. Januarie is the favourite to partner Peter Grant at halfback, although Coetzee was reluctant to say as much at this stage.
“Ricky is looking very sharp at the moment and is 100% fit,” he said. “Look, we want to be as fair as possible and the truth is there are still places in this team up for grabs. Both Ricky and Bolla are very close at the moment, but in two weeks time we will have a better idea of who our No 1 is.”
Paul Delport has been injured while 20-year-old scrumhalf Conrad Hoffmann lacks Super 14 experience. However, Coetzee believes Hoffmann could be a success at this level if given time to develop.
“Hoffie is still very young and has loads of potential, but he will have to wait his turn. It may be frustrating for him, but to sit behind two Springboks can be a good experience. He will get his chance, but he just needs to be patient. You never know, touch wood, when injury will strike, and then he could get his opportunity.”
Grant is likely to start at pivot, but the eagerly anticipated arrival of former All Black Tony Brown will boost the Cape franchise significantly. Brown could be benched for the majority of the campaign, but Coetzee hopes his experience rubs off on his new team-mates.
Currently playing his rugby for the Wild Knights in Japan, Brown will join the Stormers as soon as his team either win or are knocked out of the Japanese competition.
“Tony is definitely not in contention for the first game but will join us as soon as he finishes in Japan. It will help guys like Isma-eel Dollie and Peter Grant to have an old head around. I mean how many players get to say they played in the same team as one of the All Blacks?
“He should have plenty to offer, not just to the other flyhalves but to the 12s outside him as well. As coaches, we are not afraid to discuss ways of improving the structures of our side. He’s enjoyed a long career and has even had some success with the Sharks. I’m sure he could bring a lot of interesting things to the table.”
By Jon Cardinelli