Bok veteran backs young flyhalf

Jean de Villiers believes that Gary van Aswegen has ‘unbelievable potential’ and looks forward to playing alongside the 21-year-old pivot in Super Rugby.

While regular flyhalf Peter Grant will feature for the Stormers, he is unlikely to be available until early March. As was the case last year, Grant’s commitments to the Japanese club Kobe Steelers precludes him from the Stormers’ pre-season and impacts on his involvement in the Cape side’s initial Super Rugby games. It’s for this reason that the Stormers have had to search for a more dependable, and potentially a greater, longer-term option.

Van Aswegen held his own during the first few games of the 2011 competition, but it is in the 2012 installment that he will be expected to exercise more control and authority. While Coetzee has expressed his disappointment with the Stormers’ flyhalf group as a collective in the pre-season, he has maintained his faith in Van Aswegen as a player the Cape team can build their game around. And as a senior Springbok and leader within the Stormers set-up, De Villiers has also handed Van Aswegen a ringing endorsement.

‘We’re basically preparing as if Bash [Grant] isn’t going to be here,’ said De Villiers. ‘Gary has done well with the few opportunities that he’s had, and I think we’re in a better position now than we were at the same time last year with regards to the flyhalf situation.

‘Gary is maturing as a player, he has unbelievable potential. I have a role to play in mentoring young players like Gary, but at the same time I’m excited to be playing next to him.’

Van Aswegen has started one game thus far during the pre-season, and will start his second match against the Kings in Port Elizabeth this Saturday. While he will have De Villiers on his outside at No 12, he won’t have the Stormers’ best scrumhalf, Dewaldt Duvenage, on his inside.

If the Stormers feel confident about starting the Super Rugby season with a talented yet inexperienced flyhalf, they should be nervous about fielding two inexperienced players in the key decision-making positions of 9 and 10.

Because of injury, Duvenage hasn’t been considered for the hit-out in PE which would suggest that Louis Schreuder is the favourite to partner Van Aswegen in the halfbacks when the Stormers host the Hurricanes in their opening Super Rugby game.

Schreuder battled to handle the pressure at the base of the ruck when he last started against the Lions. That match also highlighted some concerns around his tactical game, and whether he has the aptitude to fill the void left by Duvenage. He struggled against the Lions and that in turn had an adverse effect on Van Aswegen’s game. The Stormers will hope that this match against the Kings gives the young pair a chance to get things right before they confront the real thing on 25 February.

Meanwhile, Coetzee has confirmed that while Van Aswegen will start the season as the first-choice flyhalf, fullback Joe Pietersen would be taking the goal-kicks.

By Jon Cardinelli