The Stormers have decided to give Duane Vermeulen more time to prove his fitness ahead of a physical semi-final showdown with the Sharks.
Two weeks ago, coach Allister Coetzee told keo.co.za that Vermeulen may feature in the play-offs. The hard-nosed No 8 has missed the majority of the Super Rugby competition with a serious knee injury, but has made great strides in his rehabilitation.
Coetzee said on Monday that Vermeulen has participated in two training sessions over the past few days, although he is still yet to take contact. He sat out of Monday’s practice as the so as not to overwork his knee, but he will face a decisive fitness test on Tuesday.
‘He’s had two big sessions, and we decided it was best if he got off his feet today [Monday],’ said Coetzee. ‘He is really pushing hard to be ready for that semi-final and at the moment he is still in the mix.
‘I’m not a betting man, but I would say that there’s about a 65 to 70% chance he will play this Saturday. We will see how he goes in contact on Tuesday.
‘It’s a tough decision to make because we don’t want him to come back if he’s not ready, so if he is cleared to play, it will be because we feel he can make a contribution. If he can’t be effective, then he won’t be risked.’
If Vermeulen doesn’t come through a barrage of tests and is ruled out, then Coetzee will stick with the back-row combination that started against the Rebels in Round 18. In that event, Siya Kolisi, Rynhardt Elstadt and Deon Fourie will form the loose trio.
While Vermeulen may yet be cleared to play against the Sharks, he is unlikely to last the full 80 minutes. He will start if available, but the combination of Kolisi, Elstadt and Fourie will finish the game.
Injured loose forwards Schalk Burger and Nick Koster remain unavailable for the Stormers, while Nizaam Carr has already been ruled out for the rest of the year.
By Jon Cardinelli