JON CARDINELLI says the injury situation can only worsen for the Stormers in the next three weeks and fans should brace themselves for at least one loss.
Coach Allister Coetzee’s worst fear was realised on Saturday when No 8 Nizaam Carr hobbled off the field. The log may not reflect the fact, but Carr’s knee injury has plunged the Cape franchise even deeper into crisis.
The Stormers will be without Schalk Burger and Nick Koster until the end of June, and may have to make do without Duane Vermeulen for the rest of their campaign. It was hoped that they could survive this four-game stretch without conceding further injuries, and that Jebb Sinclair would play a supporting role to the incumbent loose trio of Siya Kolisi, Rynhardt Elstadt and Carr.
But with Carr joining a lengthy list of casualties, Sinclair will be thrust into the starting line-up. It means that Coetzee will also have to promote a loose forward from the Western Province Vodacom Cup team, as apparently there are no other experienced players available.
When asked whether he would seek further help from abroad, a despondent Coetzee replied, ‘Who? Do you have any names for me?’
It was a statement that explained the recruitment of Sinclair. The Stormers had failed to acquire the services of Springbok flank Francois Louw and presumably failed to acquire other high-profile players with unbreakable club commitments.
Outside of Sinclair, a Canadian who plays his club rugby for London Irish, there aren’t many players with a gap at this point of the season.
Saracens enjoy a good relationship with the Stormers, and it was suggested after their recent exit from the Premiership semi-finals that some of those players may be available. Saracens hooker Schalk Brits did after all play loose forward for the Cape side when they were similarly afflicted last year.
But Coetzee’s response didn’t inspire any confidence of a Saracens forward flying to the Stormers’ aid. It is likely that the Stormers will have to make do with what they have until Burger and Koster return at the end of next month.
It’s a massive blow, and you’d have to say they’d do well to stay in contention for a home semi-final. They may have lost only one game to date, but because they haven’t scored four-try bonus points their position in the top six is far from secure.
They need to keep winning to stay in contention for that crucial home play-off. It’s going to be a tough ask with a depleted pack, even more so considering the demands of looming forward-oriented contests against the Waratahs, Sharks and Bulls.
It will be nothing short of amazing if they manage to win their next three matches, two of which are away from home. It will be incredible if they can come through these inevitably brutal physical clashes without losing more players to injury.
They will also hope that the Highlanders and Chiefs do them a favour by beating the Bulls and thus preventing the Pretoria side from extending its lead at the top of the South African conference.
Two defeats for the Bulls will allow the Cape team to stay in touch despite their own (and here I say probable given their depleted stocks) losses in the next three rounds.
The Stormers have a slightly easier run-in to the play-offs than the Bulls with matches against the Lions (home), Rebels (home) and Cheetahs (away) scheduled for after the June Tests. The Bulls will host the Cheetahs and Lions, but face a difficult trip to Durban.
The Stormers will be boosted by the returns of Burger and Koster for those matches, but they won’t want to leave themselves with too much to do in terms of securing a home semi-final. They need to survive the next three matches without conceding further injuries, and they also need to pick up some crucial log points.
A win against an inconsistent Waratahs side this weekend is non-negotiable, as away victories in Durban and Pretoria for a depleted Stormers side seem far less likely.