Stormers right to look abroad

JON CARDINELLI says it’s ludicrous to suggest the recruitment of a foreign Test player is a slight on the Western Cape loose-forward contingent given what’s transpired over the last three months.

Seconds after Canadian international Jebb Sinclair was named on the Stormers bench, the Twittersphere was ablaze with indignation. A lot of people alleged that the recruitment of Sinclair sent the wrong message to younger players in the Western Cape’s junior ranks.

Others were even angrier, spewing vitriol at the Cape union for gross mismanagement. This group said it was little wonder younger players accepted offers from overseas clubs or competing Super Rugby franchises. The Stormers and WP, they argued, don’t give youngsters enough opportunities.

The timing of these allegations couldn’t have been worse. If one stops to consider the evidence, the allegations are actually quite absurd.

There have been times when the Stormers have got it wrong, as Francois Hougaard and Johann Sadie are but two promising Cape-reared players who defected to other franchises due to a lack of opportunities. It is because of these defections that there is a perception in South Africa that the Cape union is guilty of squandering its young talent.

On this occasion, however, to say the Stormers management is guilty of not backing their youth and structures couldn’t be further off the mark.

An eight-from-nine record in the 2012 Super Rugby competition could not have been achieved had the Stormers coaches not backed the younger players. The Stormers started the first game with two 20-year-olds, Steven Kitshoff and Eben Etzebeth, in the run-on team, as well as another two 20-year-olds in Siya Kolisi and Frans Malherbe, on the bench.

Over the course of 10 games, these youngsters have been granted ample opportunity and, in the case of Kolisi, have stepped into the starting side when a key player has been injured. Aside from Schalk Burger, the Stormers have also had to deal with further long-term injuries to Nick Koster and Duane Vermeulen. This has forced coach Allister Coetzee to hand Nizaam Carr his first Super Rugby cap.

That the Stormers won three from four on their recent tour to Australasia doesn’t mean that they are not in a precarious situation. They are just one injury away from a massive crisis, and are going into a phase of the competition where they will play four physical encounters in a row.

They need to keep winning to keep their hopes of topping the South African conference alive, and while Kolisi, Ryhardt Elstadt and Carr are set to start the majority if not all four of those games, they will need some quality in reserve.

This is the message Coetzee tried to convey on Monday. The Stormers had been working to bring Francois Louw back to Cape Town for the four-game stint. When it didn’t work out, they brought in Sinclair, a Canada international with 25 Tests to his name and a season with London Irish under the belt.

Because of injuries incurred earlier in the season, the Stormers have already been forced to promote Carr and Don Armand from the Vodacom Cup, and while the promotion has coincided with success Down Under, Coetzee is concerned that the next rung of young loose forwards are not equipped to cover the No 8 or blindside position at Super Rugby level.

Indignant fans should not be asking why the young players at WP are being neglected, because as seen through the blooding of Kolisi, Etzebeth, Kitshoff, Carr and Armand over the course of the current season, this clearly isn’t the case.

The question should rather be: Who the hell is Jebb Sinclair? And why out of all the possible recruits, has Coetzee brought in a player from far-flung Canada?

It didn’t come as a surprise to me when the request for Louw was turned down, and I’m sure there were a few other high profile players who would have come to Cape Town if not for their commitment to overseas clubs and national teams.

It’s a bad time to be sending out an SOS for an experienced loose forward. The Stormers have a gruelling schedule lined up for the next four weeks, and not many clubs are willing to risk key players before the start of the European season, or indeed four weeks before the June Test window opens.

The reasoning behind the recruitment of Sinclair is that he is a big strong player at 111kg and 1.93m, and will be able to play a powerful defensive and ball-carrying role. This is why players such as Nick Fenton-Wells and Rohan Kitshoff have been overlooked for Super Rugby promotion.

The Stormers are looking for players who have experience at Super Rugby or Premiership level and who can play No 7 and 8. Fenton-Wells may have been playing No 8 in the Vodacom Cup (which is not his preferred position), but Coetzee feels Fenton-Wells would not cope in that position in the far more demanding Super Rugby environment.

I don’t know if Sinclair will prove an inspired recruitment or not, but I agree with Coetzee’s argument that a strong and experienced player was needed to cover the existing loose trio combination of Kolisi, Elstadt and Carr.

The Stormers have already shown that they are committed to backing their youngsters, and that shouldn’t be in question. And at this stage of the competition they are also under pressure to maintain their winning momentum. Having a specialist in the position who also boasts experience at this level is only going to help their cause.

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