Very bad news for Stormers and Boks
April 24, 2012, 09:53:42
JON CARDINELLI writes the long-term absence of both Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen will provide the ultimate test of depth for the Stormers and Springboks.
It’s a black day for the Stormers, and possibly for the Springboks as well. It’s been revealed that Burger’s knee injury will keep him sidelined until July, meaning he will miss the Stormers’ big matches against the Bulls and Sharks as well as the Tests against England.
Vermeulen will go for further tests to his own crocked knee this week, but is expected to be out for at least four months. His Super Rugby campaign is effectively over.
The news will come as a body blow to the Stormers. Their forward play has been outstanding thus far, with youngsters Steven Kitshoff, Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi making a big impact. But the secret to their success has been the balance of that forward pack, as while Burger has missed most of the tournament, seniors like Tiaan Liebenberg, Andries Bekker and Vermeulen have all played a massive role.
The Stormers overcame the Reds last week but struggled at the lineout in the absence of Bekker. It was a big effort at the collisions against the incumbent champions but after eight matches some of those youngsters looked to be tiring. The Stormers will enjoy a bye after this week’s match against the Force, but following that, the management would have hoped to reintroduce a player like Burger and give some of the other heavy hitters a rest.
But Burger won’t be back and Vermeulen has joined the injured list. Coach Allister Coetzee finds himself in a difficult position. There were instances earlier in the season where player rotation happened as a result of injuries, with Rynardt Elstadt and Deon Fourie returning to bolster the forward stocks. In terms of genuine rest and management, there has been very little of it outside of the front row.
Bekker hurt his back in his seventh straight start (Was never necessary to start him every game!!!!), and so was forced to sit out of the clash with the Reds. He is expected to return from injury this week to lead the Stormers now that Vermeulen is no longer available.
Because Vermeulen and Burger, two prominent senior players, will be missing from action for the next few months, Bekker could be asked to take on a heavier workload. It is not ideal for a player who at the start of the year returned from a seven-month layoff and hoped to be managed with the Tests in June in mind.
Some will argue that the Stormers pack has performed despite the loss of Burger. I would agree that while Burger is a special player, the performance of Siya Kolisi has offset Burger’s absence to a degree. But what people need to remember is that Kolisi has been operating in a back row that includes Elstadt and Vermeulen. The latter often doesn’t receive enough credit for the work he does on the field both in terms of ball-carrying and defence.
It was Vermeulen and Burger that took Kolisi under their wing in the pre-season in an attempt to bring the rookie up to speed on defence. The results have been there for all to see, but there is still a sense that Kolisi and the other youngsters follow Vermeulen’s lead. Vermeulen may not wear a No 4 on his back, but he is one of the primary enforcers. His aggressive play sets the standard.
His value is evident in his coaches’ reluctance to bench or rest him. He played every minute of the Stormers’ Super 14 campaign in 2010 and every Super Rugby game in 2011 up to the final league clash with the Cheetahs. It was a knee injury that would prevent him from playing in the play-offs, and the Stormers certainly missed his abrasiveness in that physical showdown with the Crusaders.
The injury also ruled him out of the 2011 World Cup. It’s crazy to think that at the age of 25, one of South Africa’s most consistently outstanding loose forwards for the past three seasons doesn’t have a Test cap. If this week’s medical tests confirm the worst and he is indeed sidelined for four months, he will miss the rest of the Super Rugby campaign, the Tests against England and possibly the Rugby Championship as well.
It robs Heyneke Meyer of a powerful option in the Bok back row. Juan Smith has already declared himself unavailable as he attempts to recover from a career-threatening Achilles injury. Burger won’t be back in time to play England. With Vermeulen the latest casualty, Meyer only has a few experienced options at blindside flank.
It could be that Willem Alberts, who made his Bok debut in 2010 and went to the 2011 World Cup, is installed at No 7. Jean Deysel is another option and has played for the Boks before. The only question mark over these players is form, as they have battled in an under-performing Sharks side in 2012.
Terrible news this and one really wonders if we still stand a chance of winning the Super comp. Wonder how long Jean will be out for. Need to bring in Quin Roux. Shatters the dream of having the Stormer pack at full strength and showing the doubters what a super pack is about. Very sad news.
Have to hope Elsdat ,Kostner and Kolisi can do it. Bekker and Quin Roux could be tried. Front row stocks are still good and backline injuries are currently of no concern. Some hope left.