Willem de Waal is a better backline bet than the inexperienced Tim Whitehead given the nature of Saturday’s clash at Newlands.
Juan de Jongh is unavailable for the Stormers this weekend prompting a debate on who’s the best man to fill the void. Allister Coetzee told keo.co.za on Monday he would choose between De Waal, Conrad Hoffmann, Whitehead, Frikkie Welsh and Dylan des Fountain to replace De Jongh and the suspended Lionel Cronje in the match 22. The team will be announced on Wednesday afternoon, and it seems Whitehead is the favourite to wear No 12.
The move makes sense in that Peter Grant will remain at flyhalf where he’s enjoyed a good start to the season. His hard running at the advantage line keeps the opposition defence from drifting wide, and his distribution (complemented by Dewaldt Duvenage’s swift service) is creating opportunities for the men outside. It’s believed the Stormers coaches don’t want to play De Waal at No 10, as his strengths are not with ball in hand.
The Stormers have scored nine tries in the last two matches. They want to keep the momentum going, but is exposing yet another rookie the answer? Are they so certain they can run the Cheetahs ragged? The fixture is more likely to be a hard grind up front with tactical kicking the order of the day.
Whitehead impressed in the 2009 Varsity Cup and has been part of the Stormers’ squad since the beginning of the season. With Morgan Newman injured, he now finds himself in contention for a start in the Super 14.
Another option, which has enjoyed success at this level, would be to move Grant to No 12 and play De Waal at flyhalf. De Waal only recently returned from a long-term neck injury, and but for that injury, would have started the season at No 10 as per the Stormers’ plans. Grant was originally expected to partner Jaque Fourie in midfield with De Jongh providing cover on the bench.
This move offers the Stormers more kicking options at 9, 10 and 12, with the flyhalf possessing the ability to punt the ball 60m into touch instead of 40m. And yes, 20m can make all the difference when you add the kicks up over the course of 80 minutes.
Two weeks ago, the Cheetahs were on fire against the Hurricanes. They have some good tactical kickers in Naas Olivier and Meyer Bosman, who must be the dangermen this Saturday. The Stormers need a player capable of countering this duo. They haven’t been tested in the tactical kicking department this season – the Brumbies’ kicked a lot, but lacked accuracy – and they haven’t met a forward pack that have put them to the test. They may find both on Saturday.
Coetzee is right in saying youngsters need to be backed, but not at the cost of a game-winning strategy. The Stormers have won four from five, but don’t need to get overconfident at this stage. Coetzee has also repeatedly said he will make selections or player rotations according to the opposition, and as history suggests, Cheetahs fixtures are tailor-made for De Waal.
The Stormers’ flyhalf orchestrated a win over the central franchise in 2009 and has proved the Cheetahs’ undoing in the Currie Cup as well. The Stormers are sure to continue in their attacking direction when they head off on tour, but they want to depart for that trip on a winning note. The smart selection for the Cheetahs’ fixture is De Waal. The tough decision on whether to stick with his boot or revert to Grant’s running game should only be made next week.
By Jon Cardinelli