AJ aims to fill Bekker void

AJ Venter believes he has the experience and ability to do the Stormers proud in Andries Bekker’s absence.

Bekker suffered a toe injury before the Stormers’ overseas tour, a tough break that prevented his travelling Down Under. Rassie Erasmus thought of recalling Ross Skeate as a replacement given his similar build, speed and skill set, but news that Skeate broke his jaw playing for Toulon bulleted the idea.

In the absence of Bekker and with the unavailability of Skeate, Venter should be the premier No 5 for the duration of the Stormers’ five-match tour. The former Springbok was contracted to the Cape franchise as a lock and faces an immense challenge in filling Bekker’s boots.

‘It was a big blow to lose Andries,’ Venter told keo.co.za. ‘Apart from his ability in the lineout and around the park, he’s one of the leaders in the team.

‘I’m fortunate that I have been involved with the squad and I know all the calls and systems. I also think my experience can be an asset on a difficult tour.’

The Stormers play the Crusaders, Waratahs, Brumbies, Hurricanes and Highlanders on successive weekends. As a player who’s been travelling to New Zealand since 1998, Venter said the Cape franchise would do well to give the Crusaders the necessary respect.

The Super 14 title-holders may be missing Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, and they may be without coaching guru Robbie Deans, but according to Venter, the Crusaders’ brand will endure.

‘They are growing and building, and they showed what a danger they can be with last week’s win in Sydney. The Crusaders haven’t changed their pattern much and we know what to expect, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

‘They’ll come at us physically this Saturday. We’re a side with a lot to prove, but I believe our forwards have been playing better with every game. Our lineout is working well and our scrum, which was doubted by a lot of people earlier in the season, has improved by 100%.’

Erasmus will name his starting side on Wednesday. Venter will replace Bekker to partner Adriaan Fondse in the second row while JD Moller will return at the expense of precocious loosehead Wicus Blaauw.

Conrad Jantjes’s return to fitness could see him joining Percy Montgomery in a much-anticipated back-three combination. Jantjes could take Nick Koster’s right wing spot with Montgomery retained at fullback.

By Jon Cardinelli