Bekker blues as Stormers feel the pinch

Andries Bekker’s untimely toe injury could be the death knell for the Stormers as they head Down Under with a depleted pack.

The much-maligned Cape forwards have fronted in 2009, particularly in the loose and in the lineout. Bekker has been the standout in the latter and his exemplary support play has already bagged him a couple of tries. With his injury, the Stormers find themselves in a predicament. Losing Bekker is on a par with losing captain Jean de Villiers or talisman Schalk Burger, such is his vital contribution to the Stormers’ cause. At a stage of the season where another defeat could blitz their play-off hopes, and lacking a quality specialist in reserve, you’d have to say the Stormers are in trouble.

Rassie Erasmus has selected Adriaan Fondse, AJ Venter and Hilton Lobberts for the five-match tour while Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw have been mentioned as potential second row cover. It will be interesting to see who Erasmus picks to face the Crusaders. Of the three specialists, Fondse is certain to start, but given Venter plays a similar role and Lobberts hasn’t featured this season, Erasmus may play one of his loose forwards out of position.

Vermeulen would be a good option given his lineout prowess and strength in the loose, but playing Vermeulen at No 5 means you can’t play him in the back row where he’s excelled all season. Francois Louw could do a job in the second row, but he’s unlikely to come close to filling the void left by Bekker.

Up front, the Stormers will take heart from Wicus Blaauw’s steady rise, but it may be a bit much to ask the 22-year-old to cover loosehead and tighthead on the coming tour. Specialist tightheads JC Kritzinger and Brok Harris are out for extended periods while first-choice Brian Mujati has been inconsistent. Schalk Ferreira can cover hooker and loosehead but has also been a spectator this season while the returning Tiaan Liebenberg faces the arduous task of picking up where he left off before departing for France.

It’s hardly a recipe for success and one feels the Stormers are one injury away from complete disaster. It will be hard enough without Bekker at the heart of the lineout, the Stormers’ primary platform of attack, and they’ll miss the second-half dynamism of Deon Fourie, but if another big name goes down it could be goodnight nurse.

The Stormers lost Schalk Burger and JD Moller towards the end of last year’s round robin, a blow that effected their winning momentum and ultimately cost them a semi-final place. Unfortunately for the Cape franchise, the hits have come a lot earlier in 2009 and they’ll head into next week’s bout against the Crusaders smarting from the loss of Bekker.

They’ll need to replicate last Saturday’s performance when they visit Christchurch, but from hereon in, they’ll also need a great deal of luck. The Stormers will have performed admirably if they win three of their five tour games without Bekker, but after 11 rounds and a five from 10 record, it won’t be good enough to nail down a play-off berth. Bekker may recover to join the Stormers for the Highlanders clash, but in their fifth tour fixture, it could also be too little too late for the Cape franchise.

By Jon Cardinelli