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Super RugbyIt is the Top 6 Qualifying Round of Super Rugby 2015 this weekend.

There are only 2 matches in the Round, 1 in New Zealand and 1 in South Africa.

3rd Placed on the Combined Log, the DHL Stormers (albeit 3rd only by reason of the Conference Syystem), hosts 6th on the Log, the Brumbies. In the other match 4th on the Log, the Highlanders, hosts 5th on the Log, the Chiefs.

The 2 Franchises who finished in the No1 and No 2 spots on the Combined Log, the Hurricanes and Waratahs respectively, have lovely rest weekends, as they only meet the winners of this Round’s matches next weekend in the Semi-Finals.

The action is kicked off by the Highlanders vs Chiefs who do battle in Dunedin at 09:35 SA Time (19:35 NZ Time, 17:35 AEST, 07:35 GMT)

Much later in the day, in Cape Town, South Africa, the DHL Stormers host the Brumbies at 17:05 SA Time (15:05 GMT, Sunday 01:05 AEST, Sunday 03:05 NZ Time).

After this Round of Top 6 Qualifying matches, only 4 teams will remain and there will be 2 Semi-Final matches next weekend, followed by a Final match for the ultimate winner a week later.

The Highlanders vs Chiefs game should be an absolute cracker, with both teams getting some injured players back into the fold. It is extremely difficult to pick a winner for this game and the different pundits differ on the winner of the match, with probable the bigger percentage backing the Chiefs for an away win. I differ from that though, and I think if there is ONE YEAR where the Highlanders could make it to the Semi-Finals, it is this year, at home, at Forsyth Barr stadium.

Both teams sport great backlines but I am of the opinion that the Highlanders might have a slightly more abrasive forwards pack and possibly also a better scrumhalf and flyhalf, both of whom have come on in leaps and bounds in 2015, namely Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga.

I predict the Highlanders to squeek a win, in a very entertaining match.

As far as the other match is concerned, do we give home ground advantage enough weight to speculate that the DHL Stormers will overcome the Brumbies in Cape Town… even though their regular league game was only a 21 / 20 win for the Stormers and with Christian Lealiifano missing an absolute peach of a conversion attempt, from right in front, OR do we say that the Brumbies will win the game in the absense of Duane Vermeulen and likely also Schalk Burger, both with some injury concerns?

The South African scribes and pundits all patriotically pick the Stormers for a win, but I am hesitant to do so and think this game’s result is a perfect 50 / 50 guess, so may the best team take it!

Meanwhile 9 Teams are already lounging around, no longer part of the race to the finish line.

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Demetri Catrakilis

Demetri Catrakilis

DHL Stormers flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis will be ready for their Super Rugby qualifier against the Brumbies at Newlands on Saturday.

Catrakilis suffered concussion in his side’s 19 / 19 home draw against the Emirates Lions on 6 June when he attempted to tackle loose forward Jaco Kriel.

The Stormers pivot was rested for last weekend’s 34 / 12 loss to the Cell C Sharks in Durban, with Kurt Coleman taking his place.

But Catrakilis is raring to go for this Saturday’s clash, coach Allister Coetzee confirmed.

“Dim is fine – he passed his test with flying colours, he’s cleared,” Coetzee told the Stormers’ official website.

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Duane Vermeulen

DHL Stormers captain Duane Vermeulen has not improved significantly enough to feature in the 1st Round of Super Rugby playoffs.

The Stormers host the Brumbies at DHL Newlands on Saturday and the burly Springbok will not be considered.

Should the Stormers beat the Brumbies at Newlands, they would travel to Sydney to face the Waratahs in the semifinals.

Vermeulen, who has missed the Stormers’ last 2 games with a bulging neck disc that at one stage threatened his World Cup prospects, is making “good progress” on the road to recovery.

However, coach Allister Coetzee said that the improvement is “not enough” for this week.

“Hopefully, going forward, there is still an opportunity for him,” Coetzee told a media scrum at the team’s training base.

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Robert du Preez

Robert du Preez

André Esterhuizen

André Esterhuizen

DHL Stormers’ fullback Robert du Preez and Sharks centre André Esterhuizen have both been handed lengthy suspensions after performing dangerous tackles in their game on Saturday.

The Sharks won the match 34 / 12 in Durban.

Du Preez has been suspended for 6 weeks – after being shown a Yellow Card for his dangerous tackle on Sharks’ wing Lwazi Mvovo in the 76th minute, while Esterhuizen got 4 weeks after his tackle on Stormers flank Michael Rhodes in the 10th minute.

Both players were found guilty of contravening Law 10.4 (j): Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground such that the player’s head and / or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play.

Judicial officer Nigel Hampton deemed that with Du Preez the offence was more serious and thus handing the player a longer suspension.

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Super RugbyNow that the league phase of the Super Rugby tournament is finished, I have posted a SA team of the tournament article. The team is based on the form players during the tournament, with overseas based players obviously not considered.

The South African teams had a very disappointing tournament by any standards, with injuries, poor form and bad reffing decisions making life hard for the critical rugby public, but in an attempt to find a silver lining here is this author’s team of the tournament (other contenders mentioned where appropriate):

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Nizaam Carr

Nizaam Carr

Nizaam Carr will lead the DHL Stormers into action for the 1st time, as the 2015 SA Conference winners face up to the Cell C Sharks in both teams’ final Vodacom Super Rugby league match of the season in Durban on Saturday.

Carr will line up at No 8 in a much-changed DHL Stormers team from last weekend, the new skipper the only surviving starting player from his team’s 19 / 19 draw against the Lions at DHL Newlands.

There are 3 DHL Stormers debutants in the matchday 23, with Robert du Preez starting at No 15 in his 1st taste of Super Rugby action and flanker Sikhumbuzo Notshe and hooker Michael Willemse making their 1st starts at this level.

Lock Jan de Klerk and scrumhalf Godlen Masimla will be looking to earn their 1st caps from the bench, whilst vice-captain Jaco Taute (inside centre – in his 50th overall Super Rugby appearance), Michael Rhodes (No 7) and Kobus van Wyk (on the bench) are back in the mix following their injury lay-offs.

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Sikhumbuzo Notshe

Sikhumbuzo Notshe

Stormers and Western Province loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe has opted to extend his stay in Cape Town for a further 2 seasons.

The promising 22-year-old has signed a deal to stay at WP until the end of the 2017 season.

Notshe was a star for WP in the Vodacom Cup this year, while also impressing when he got opportunities for the Stormers in Super Rugby.

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Nizaam Carr

Nizaam Carr

Nizaam Carr will captain the DHL Stormers in their Super Rugby clash in Durban on Saturday against the Cell C Sharks.

Kick-off is at 19:10 SA Time (17:10 GMT).

It has been reliably learnt that the Springbok loose forward will lead a Stormers ‘B’ team in their final Super Rugby league fixture against the men from Durban before they tackle the playoffs the following weekend.

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said he has looked at the situation and described his sides chances of ending up in 2nd position on the overall Super Rugby standings as “highly unlikely.”

A 2nd place finish would have secured a home semi-final spot for the Cape franchise – a week’s rest during the “quarter-finals”.

Coetzee will however use the game against the Sharks to bring back a few players who have been sidelined with injuries for a while. Players like Jaco Taute, Kobus van Wyk and Michael Rhodes will be in the starting line-up. It will also be a golden opportunity to test the depth of his squad.

“I am not even worried about the outcome of the games between the Waratahs and Reds as well as the Brumbies and Crusaders,” said Coetzee.

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Johan Goosen

Johan Goosen

John Plumtree

John Plumtree

With the current DHL Stormers coach, Allister Coetzee already having confirmed his departure to Japan at the end of 2015 and with Demetri Catrakilis already having signed for Jake White’s Montpellier, the rumour mill is starting to get into full gear regarding replacements for these vital Stormers positions.

Current Hurricanes forwards coach and former Sharks head coach, John Plumtree is touted to be a favourite for the Stormers head coach position.

Johan Goosen, 2nd choice flyhalf at Racing Metro, has also been linked to a move to Cape Town, to join DHL Western Province.

 

John Plumtree:

Former Sharks coach John Plumtree is being linked with a move to coach the DHL Stormers in next year’s Super Rugby competition.

Plumtree is currently the assistant coach of Super Rugby log-leaders, the Hurricanes, but the New Zealander has been in connection with Western Province Director of Rugby, Gert Smal, about a possible move to Cape Town.

Allister Coetzee, the current Stormers coach, will leave the team after this year’s competition to take charge of the Kobe Kobelco Steelers in Japan.

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DHL StormersThe chances have greatly increased that the DHL Stormers will need to defy statistical history to win the 2015 overall Super Rugby crown from here.

Signs point all too strongly to their being elbowed into a 3rd-placed finish after ordinary season, even though they are already safely installed as SA conference champions after the engrossing, full-blooded 19 / 19 Newlands result  (inconvenient 1st draw competition-wide this year) against the now-eliminated Emirates Lions.

To still get a highly desirable home semi-final, 3 results will need to work in their favour in the weekend’s last Round ahead of the 6-team playoffs.

Allister Coetzee’s charges, apart from having to beat the Cell C Sharks themselves in Durban on Saturday (19:10 SA Time kick-off), will have needed 2 earlier matches on the day to have gone the way of the away teams to avoid South Africa being the only 1 of the participating countries for a 2nd year running not to stage a semi.

They seek a Crusaders victory over the Brumbies in their trip to Canberra, plus a Reds win in the Australian derby against the Waratahs in Sydney.

Neither outcome can be completely ruled out, but a considerably better bet is that at least 1 of the Waratahs or Brumbies will have done the business, thus leaving the Stormers automatic 3rd-placed tenants regardless of how their Durban date goes.

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Duane Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen

DHL Stormers No 8 and captain Duane Vermeulen consulted a neurosurgeon on Monday, after he was withdrawn from the past weekend’s Vodacom Super Rugby clash against the Lions with a severe neck spasm.

Vermeulen suffered an intense spasm in his neck after last Friday’s captain’s run, with an MRI showing a bulging disc at a C5 level.

However, the DHL Stormers and Springbok star consulted a neurosurgeon on Monday and the prognosis was positive ahead of the upcoming Vodacom Super Rugby play-offs, with the DHL Stormers set to host either a quarter- or semifinal in the coming weeks.

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Damian de Allende

Damian de Allende

DHL Stormers and Springbok centre Damian de Allende will also play rugby in Japan later this year.

Good news for Stormers fans though is that the 23-year-old will return to play Super Rugby for the Cape franchise next year – as is the case with many South African Super Rugby players plying their trade in Japan.

It’s still unsure what team De Allende would be joining but the possibility exists that he could join Stormers coach Allister Coetzee at the Kobe Kobelco Steelers.

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Schalk Burger

Schalk Burger

The DHL Stormers have announced just 3 changes to their starting line-up, with 2 new faces on the bench, for Saturday’s all-South African Super Rugby meeting with the Emirates Lions at DHL Newlands (Kick-Off 17:05 SA Time).

The DHL Stormers can secure a 3rd South African Conference title with a victory against the in-form Lions and the return of Schalk Burger, from a week’s rest – as per the SA Rugby rest agreement with the SA Franchises, will boost the home side significantly.

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Duane Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen’s reported move to France appears all the more likely after the Springbok and Stormers No 8 rejected a contract offer from the South African Rugby Union (SARU).

Vermeulen would have been the highest earning Springbok had he accepted SARU’s offer.

His decision to reject the offer from SARU adds fire to reports earlier this year that linked him with a move to French club Toulon.

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DHL StormersDHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has made 3 changes ahead of Saturday’s all-South African Super Rugby clash against the Toyota Cheetahs at DHL Newlands (kick-off 17:05 SA Time).

1 Of the changes sees Nizaam Carr replace Schalk Burger at No 6, the latter being rested as part of the SA Franchises’ agreement with SA Rugby and Carr winning his 50 DHL Stormers cap in the process.

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Eben Etzebeth

Eben Etzebeth

Big-spending French giants Toulon are finding the going tough in luring Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth to France after this year’s Rugby World Cup.

Reports late last year indicated that Etzebeth could join Toulon as a replacement for compatriot Bakkies Botha, who is set to leave the reigning European champions.

The problem though for Toulon is that Etzebeth is still contracted to Western Province until the end of the 2016 season – and the union is reluctant to let him go.

Toulon boss Mourad Boudjellal has confirmed their interest in Etzebeth, but admitted that they are finding the going tough to attain Etzebeth’s services, with Western Province believed to be upset over the matter.

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Schalk Burger

Schalk Burger

Experienced DHL Stormers and Springbok flank Schalk Burger will be rested from this weekend’s Super Rugby match against the Toyota Cheetahs.

Burger has been a star performer for the Stormers since returning from Japan in early March.

However, he will have this week off as part of the franchises agreement with the South African Rugby Union – to keep key Springboks ‘fresh’ for the World Cup.

The Stormers will host the Cheetahs at Newlands on Saturday, having lost by 17 / 25 in Bloemfontein the last time these 2 sides met on 2 May.

Burger’s intended replacement, Michael Rhodes, is not yet fit to be considered for selection.

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DHL StormersDHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has announced his team for Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby clash against the Melbourne Rebels at DHL Newlands (kick-off 19:10 SA Time), with SA Sevens star Seabelo Senatla named to start.

Senatla will start in the No 14 jersey – with Johnny Kotze missing out – in 1 of just 3 changes from the starting 15 that beat the Brumbies at DHL Newlands a fortnight ago.

DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee told the www.iamastormer.com website: “It’s great to welcome Seabelo back from SA Sevens duty, as he did for us last season (before also going on to play in the ABSA Currie Cup).

“He’s keen and excited to get stuck back in, as he said when he arrived back in the country, and Seabelo knows what we expect from him and why we have selected him – after all, he is quality player and he trained well today.

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Seabelo Senatla

Seabelo Senatla

Sevens superstar Seabelo Senatla is ready to pull on a Stormers jersey and says that, physically, there is nothing stopping him from turning out against the Melbourne Rebels at Newlands on Saturday.

The Blitzbokke arrived at Cape Town International airport on Tuesday after a disappointing end to their World Series season in London, but the attention was firmly on Senatla and his Super Rugby availability.

“Ja, physically I can play, there is nothing actually stopping me,” this year’s leading try scorer on the World Series circuit said.

On Monday the Stormers were investigating whether or not they would be shown any leniency from SANZAR with regards to the rule that uninjured players have to have been fielded at least 4 times by their franchise if they are to be allowed to play in the tournament playoffs. If that rule does indeed stand, then Senatla will have to play some part in Saturday’s match and the other 3 remaining fixtures to be able to feature in the playoffs, should the Stormers qualify.

But it is not that simple, and as keen as Senatla is to play, questions over his fitness will be answered by the Stormers medical experts.

Senatla is due to undergo a medical on Wednesday, and he is recovering from a hematoma on his thigh muscle.

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Allister Coetzee

Allister Coetzee

DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has confirmed that he will be selecting both Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger for Saturday’s important Vodacom Super Rugby clash with the Melbourne Rebels at Newlands.

Both players are due for varying amounts of rest as per the rest agreement struck between the South African Rugby Union and franchise chief executives at the start of the year, and it was assumed that this might be a game where Coetzee would do it. Vermeulen has already rested 3 games and is due to sit out 1 more, while Burger has 2 stipulated rest games and he hasn’t been rested yet.

“Obviously it means that Schalk will have to sit out 2 of the 3 games that will come after this, and Duane will have to sit out 1, but we have decided that against the Rebels we want the strongest possible team,” said Coetzee.

“There is sometimes a bit of rust and hang-over after a bye, and we need to counter that, and to do that I have decided that we should have all hands on deck for this game so that we can avoid any potential pitfalls. There were quite a few problem areas that we identified before the break and which we have spoken about and are working on, and we need to build on the win against the Brumbies by beating the Rebels.”

The Stormers now have the edge in the race for South African conference honours as the Vodacom Bulls’ loss to the Blues in their 1st tour game leaves them only 1 Log point ahead of the Cape side after the same number of matches, but with the Stormers looking forward to a run of 3 successive home games.

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Pieter-Steph du Toit

Pieter-Steph du Toit

The Cell C Sharks appear to be winning the battle to retain the services of Cape bred Pieter-Steph du Toit, who has told Durban media that he is committed to the union that he says gave him his big break in rugby.

It has been an open secret for a while now that the Springbok lock, currently out injured, was in negotiations with the DHL Stormers. Until quite recently the Western Province union appeared to be winning the battle, with informed sources confirming that Du Toit, who is from Swartland farming stock, was nearly certain to make the move down the coast next season.

However, it is understood that the Sharks then fought quite hard with counter-offers and promises that a concerted effort will be made to get the structures in Durban rugby right, and in an interview with the Natal Mercury on Monday the lock said that while he couldn’t say what would happen in the longer term, he was committed to the Sharks for now.

Du Toit has been out injured for most of the past 2 seasons and appears to feel beholden to the patience and resources that the Sharks have committed to his medical rehabilitation.

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Seabelo Senatla

Seabelo Senatla

The Stormers have returned from their week off with no major injury concerns ahead of their Super Rugby clash against the Melbourne Rebels at DHL Newlands on Saturday (kick-off 19:10 SA Time).

Johnny Kotze sat out Monday’s afternoon session with a minor niggle, whie fellow wing Kobus van Wyk remains on track for the Lions match on 6 June.

Speaking ahead of the Rebels match, Coetzee told the Stormers’ official website:

“The Rebels have beaten the Crusaders and the Brumbies away this year, so it shows their capacity as a team. We’ve had a good bye, with 3 big games coming up at Newlands, but it’s all about this weekend and getting the victory.

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Jano Vermaak

Jano Vermaak

Springbok scrumhalf Jano Vermaak has signed a 2-and-a-half-year deal with Western Province Rugby and will be available for selection from 1 July, once he has completed his current club commitments in France.

The 30-year-old will make the move back to South Africa from French giants, Toulouse; joining Nic Groom, Louis Schreuder and Godlen Masimla as the senior scrumhalf options for the DHL Stormers and DHL Western Province.

The quicksilver Vermaak has won 3 Test caps for the Springboks, making his debut against Italy on 8 June 2013, before also featuring against the Wallabies and the All Blacks later that season.

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Vincent Koch

Vincent Koch

Star DHL Stormers prop Vincent Koch will not be available for Western Province in this year’s Currie Cup.

According to reports, Koch’s contract with the Pumas lasts until the end of 2016 and his home union has no intention of letting him go.

“He will play (Currie Cup rugby) for me in 2015 and 2016,” said Pumas president Hein Mentz.

“Our viewpoint is that we give players opportunities to improve. Therefore, we made Vincent available to the Stormers and Renaldo Bothma and Giant Mtyanda to the Sharks.

“Vincent was loaned to the Stormers because the Lions, our franchise partner, didn’t regard him as good enough.”

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Seabelo SenatlaThere appears to be an outside chance that Springbok Sevens flyer Seabelo Senatla may feature for the DHL Stormers in the closing stages of Vodacom Super Rugby.

The Blitzbokke finish off their 2014 / 2015 campaign in London later this week and Stormers coach Allister Coetzee says that he will investigate the option of having the speedy winger available for the last games of the round robin phase.

Senatla will have to play a couple of games to be eligible for the Finals Series that starts late in June, with the Stormers in a 3-way fight at the moment with the Vodacom Bulls and Emirates Lions to get that far.

The product of Welkom was a revelation on the wing for Western Province in last year’s ABSA Currie Cup and with the Stormers struggling to score tries this season – they have just one 4-try bonus point from their 12 matches so far – it would make sense for Coetzee to look at Senatla.

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Super RugbySupporters in Johannesburg and Cape Town were made to worry 1st before smiling as the Emirates Lions and DHL Stormers put away their Australasian opponents in an exciting round of Vodacom Super Rugby action.

The Cell C Sharks, in their 2nd match of their tour Down Under, also showed a lot of character and played with vigour, but in the end it wasn’t enough against a fired-up Hurricanes side in Wellington.

The table-toppers from New Zealand beat the Durbanites by 32 / 24 on Saturday morning but with less than 10 minutes to go, the result was still in the balance.

On Saturday afternoon, both the Emirates Lions and DHL Stormers had to fight their way back into contention after listless 1st-half performances.

The Gautengers trialled by 20 / 3 at the break, but played sublime rugby in the 2nd half and in the end beat the Highlanders by 28 / 23 in a very exciting match.

The excitement levels were not as high in Cape Town, where the DHL Stormers overturned a 16 / 9 halftime deficit into a 25 / 24 victory over the Australian Conference leaders, the Brumbies.

The 1st penalty goal of the match by Demetri Catrakilis, who kicked 20 points for the DHL Stormers, saw him move to 28 consecutive successful kicks at goal this season.

However, Catrakilis missed the next one, which would’ve seen him improve the record to 29. As it stands, the DHL Stormers flyhalf now shares the record with former Capetonian pivot Peter Grant (this is since 2002).

The Vodacom Bulls and Toyota Cheetahs had byes this weekend.

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Steven Kitshoff

Steven Kitshoff

Eben Etzebeth

Eben Etzebeth

Lock Eben Etzebeth is back from his enforced week of Springbok rest and he will be joined in the DHL Stormers pack by loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff for Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby clash against the Brumbies at DHL Newlands (Kick-Off 17:05 SA Time).

Etzebeth was rested from last week’s defeat to the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein as part of the South African Franchises’ agreement with SA Rugby, whilst Kitshoff was given a break as part of the DHL Stormers’ rotation policy.

Etzebeth will wear the No 4 shirt this weekend, with Kitshoff lining up at loosehead prop. Jean Kleyn drops down to bench after starting against the Cheetahs, whilst Manuel Carizza will start at No 5 in the absence of the injured Ruan Botha (ankle). Kitshoff, meanwhile, replaces Oli Kebble in the No 1 shirt with Alistair Vermaak remaining on the bench.

Vice-captain Juan de Jongh has been named at outside centre, but he has been bracketed with Huw Jones after suffering a hip pointer injury against the Cheetahs.

De Jongh has made a better recovery than initially anticipated, but will still be given until kick-off on Saturday. Jones will start at No 13 should De Jongh not be available, with Pat Howard set to come onto the bench.

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Stephen Larkham

Stephen Larkham

Steven Larkham has done his homework on the Stormers as he looks to turn the Brumbies’ season around with the clash at Newlands on Saturday, pointing out the lineout as an area of weakness.

The Brumbies and the Stormers are both coming off hard-fought derby losses which will put added pressure in the camps as they look to rectify that by preparing for their encounter in the Cape.

“It’s about focusing on your job and focusing on your game, we’ve done a fair bit of research on the Stormers and they are a dangerous outfit,” Larkham said at a press conference at their hotel in Cape Town on Tuesday.

There were 2 key areas of concern in the Stormers loss to the Cheetahs: Their lineout was poorly organised and executed, and miss-fired kicks at goal ended up costing them the game.

Since Manuel Carizza’s injury, the Stormers’ lineouts have fallen to pieces.

Ruan Botha called the shots in the set-piece on Saturday and it did not go down well, however when Eben Etzebeth was controlling the calls he did not do a much better job.

It can also partly be blamed on Bongi Mbonambi, who is no John Smit when it comes to hitting your jumpers. Scarra Ntubeni is once again, not much better in that regard.

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Ruan Botha

Ruan Botha

The DHL Stormers’ injury woes continue as lock Ruan Botha is the next casualty on the list of sidelined players.

Botha has been ruled out of this weekend’s Super Rugby meeting with the Brumbies at Newlands, whilst centre and vice-captain Juan de Jongh is an injury doubt.

Botha suffered an ankle ligament injury against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last Saturday, as the Stormers went down 17 / 25.

Botha is in a moon boot and could be ruled out from 3 to 6 weeks. The team doctor is still to make a call on the length of his lay-off, but he has been ruled out for this week.

De Jongh is suffering from a hip pointer injury which saw him leave the field in the 23rd minute, and it is usually a 10-day injury.

Utility back Jaco Taute is available but the initial plan is for him to play 40 minutes for Western Province in the Vodacom Cup.

“Giving him (Taute) 40 minutes in the Vodacom Cup is the initial plan, but with our injuries at present we could slot him into the team against a quality Brumbies outfit,” said Stormers coach Allister Coetzee.

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