Luke Watson’s departure has left the Stormers in something of a leadership quandary ahead of the 2010 season.
Frans Ludeke put it nicely when asked for a response to his many critics. The Bulls won the 2009 Super 14 title, and after Saturday’s win at Newlands, they look likely to claim the Currie Cup. Ludeke credited the leaders within the Bulls’ side, Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Bryan Habana said to be making all the difference.
Saturday’s semi-final was Watson’s last appearance for WP (the No 8 will join English club Bath next month). The Cape team have lost not one leader, but two, as Jean de Villiers is currently playing for Munster in Europe.
Coach Allister Coetzee seemed confident when probed on possible replacements for the Super 14. He listed those who acted as Watson’s lieutenants throughout the Currie Cup campaign, as well as Springbok flank Schalk Burger. Tiaan Liebenberg, Anton van Zyl and Peter Grant were mentioned as strong leaders within the side, but are any of these men right for the captaincy position?
De Villiers was a surprise choice when Rassie Erasmus came to power in 2008, as many felt Burger would have been the better bet. Burger replaced his best mate when De Villiers was injured in the 2009 Super 14, and when Burger broke down, Watson took the reins.
Now that De Villiers and Watson have departed, surely Burger would be a natural replacement. He leads by example – no one can argue with that. That bone-rattling hit he made on Fourie du Preez last Saturday will be used in motivational rugby videos for years to come.
The downside of awarding Burger the captaincy is he’ll have to restrain himself, and holding back isn’t his style. The team needs him to be throwing his body into rucks and pushing the envelope at the breakdown, but the team also needs a captain who isn’t a yellow-card risk.
And yet, Burger remains the Stormers’ best captaincy prospect. Liebenberg is a strong character, but doesn’t command the same kind of respect as Burger. Van Zyl is sharp and experienced, but could end up sharing the No 4 jersey with Adriaan Fondse in 2010. Grant is a valuable player, but is more in the Henry Honiball or Os du Randt category. There’s a place for the strong-silent type in the leadership structure, but not at the top of the table.
Watson has also left a gap at No 8, and when keo.co.za caught up with Erasmus recently, he suggested that Duane Vermeulen may be the man to don that jumper. Vermeulen earned a Bok call up in 2008 (and was later rendered unavailable through injury) through his performances for the Cheetahs at No 8. Expect him to perform a similar role behind a much-improved Stormers pack next season.
Burger and Francois Louw will wear 6 and 7 respectively to complete an exciting Stormers back row. WP gave everything last Saturday, and while they lost the match, they won plenty of respect. If they can replicate that kind of physicality on a more consistent basis in 2010, they may indeed alter their perennial also-ran status.
Willem de Waal is expected to return after the initial rounds while Grant could partner Juan de Jongh in midfield (that is assuming Jaque Fourie remains at the Lions). The form of this combination is going to key to the Stormers’ success, as securing possession up front is one thing, but making it tell on the scoreboard is quite another.
As seen last Saturday where an inexperienced WP backline spurned several opportunities through errors and poor decisions, there’s much to work on in the build up to next year’s Super 14.
By Jon Cardinelli