Cape Town – Schalk Burger may be a surprise starter against the Bulls if he comes through fitness tests this week.
Schalk Burger’s chances of making his return to top rugby when the Stormers travel to Pretoria next week will hinge on how he comes through training sessions planned for Wednesday and Thursday.
The Stormers captain, making his way back from a long layoff due to a knee injury, has been further set back in his comeback over the past few weeks by a calf strain that has kept him from the training field.
He missed both warm-up matches against the Cheetahs and the Boland Cavaliers, but coach Allister Coetzee has said he will make an exception to his general rule that players have to have played a warm-up fixture if they want to be considered for the Super Rugby opener against the Bulls on 22 February.
The Stormers are due to engage in an opposed session involving the Western Province Vodacom Cup side that will be refereed, and that could well be when Burger shows Coetzee whether or not he is ready to play at Loftus. Making a comeback after a year’s absence in a derby against the Bulls seems a daunting prospect, but there again, Burger has never been an ordinary player.
He is also not the type of player you play off the bench, so if he is involved at Loftus it will probably be as a member of the starting team, though Coetzee has again stressed that winning against a team like the Bulls requires 22 players and not 15.
“The situation with Schalk is positive and there has been a big improvement,” said Coetzee after a Stormers training session in Mitchell’s Plain.
Burger did not train but Coetzee said he will be ready to train on Wednesday or Thursday. His status could have an impact on who plays as the replacement for the injured Eben Etzebeth at lock, as Rynhardt Elstadt could then switch to No 4 from the No 7 jersey he has worn for most of the past year.
“Whether Schalk plays or not will have an effect on who replaces Eben at lock. There’s Don Armand who can fill that spot, Michael Rhodes is there, but hasn’t trained yet, there’s Ruan Botha (under-21 recruit from the Lions) as well. I have to make a few decisions, but Don played well there in the Currie Cup, De Kock Steenkamp is also a reliable four lock and Rynhardt is also an option.”
The smart money should be on the last mentioned as he proved an excellent partner to Andries Bekker in the 2011 season. However he appears to have lost a bit of his bulk, possibly due to his attempt to get himself properly conditioned to be more mobile on the flank. He was in excellent form against the Cavaliers last weekend.
Meanwhile Elton Jantjies slotted in well at training on Tuesday and is still the favourite to wear the No 10 jersey at Loftus, particularly as it is unlikely that Peter Grant will be back in town for a while yet.