Argentina lock Manuel Carizza could prove to be an important signing for the Stormers, writes JON CARDINELLI.
As he lay incapacitated in the middle of the La Plata pitch, Richie McCaw must have wondered what he did wrong. Less than 60 seconds earlier, the All Blacks’ set piece had provided a terrific platform, and McCaw had received the ball in a subsequent phase. He swerved inside to avoid a defender, intent on breaking the line, or at the very least gaining a few metres. He didn’t count on meeting the hulking 118kg form of Manuel Carizza in an area of the field where locks seldom tread.
The collision will be remembered as one of the biggest of the 2013 Rugby Championship. Carizza’s initial hit stopped McCaw dead. The second drive sent the All Blacks captain backpedalling before he was eventually dumped into the turf. It was a tackle that mattered little in the context of the game, as the All Blacks would go on to win comfortably. The hit, however, served to enhance Carizza’s reputation as one of the hard men of international rugby. As any Test forward will tell you, not many are capable of knocking McCaw back.
Argentina have long boasted a reputation for robust play, and have often demanded the best of what is traditionally a physical Springbok pack. Indeed, they got the better of the Boks in the 2012 Test played in Mendoza, which ended in a momentous 16-16 draw. It is not insignificant that on this occasion, Carizza was leading the physical charge in the No 4 shirt.
It should thus come as no surprise that a South African team such as the Stormers would prize a man of Carizza’s talents. He has joined the Cape franchise for the 2014 season, and it is hoped his hard edge as well as his lineout prowess will serve the Stormers’ lofty forward ambitions.
It’s a timely signing, given the Stormers’ recent struggles with injuries. They’ve lost two Bok locks, with Andries Bekker opting to play his club rugby in Japan, and Eben Etzebeth set to miss the bulk of the season with an ankle injury. To make matters worse, the promising young second rower Gerbrandt Grobler was sidelined in the pre-season with a leg injury that will rule him out for most of the year.
It is hoped his hard edge as well as his lineout prowess will serve the Stormers’ lofty forward ambitions
The pressure is on Carizza to perform, and Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is confident the Test veteran won’t let his new side down.
‘Manuel comes to us with a host of experience, having played in one of the toughest leagues in the world,’ Coetzee said. ‘He has fitted in nicely and is getting familiar with the Stormers’ structures and our training systems. His English is great and he will bring his lineout speciality experience to the table once he’s a little more familiar with the guys around him.
‘He’s also an automatic pick for Argentina, who boast a powerful pack of forwards, and we’re excited to get him into the mix. We think he will add value, as a player and as a mentor to the youngsters. Someone like Ruan Botha had a strong U21 campaign [in 2013] and he could only benefit from playing and training alongside an international star like Manuel.’
Coetzee refers to Carizza’s experience, not only as an international, but at club level too. Carizza played 113 games for Biarritz, in notoriously physical competitions such as the European Cup and the Top 14.
He was released from Biarritz in 2012 when it became clear his involvement with Argentina in the Rugby Championship would limit his appearances at club level. He was snapped up by Racing Métro for a single season in 2012-13, before confirming his move to South Africa and the Stormers. When Carizza took the field in the Stormers’ first match against the Lions in Johannesburg, he became the first Argentinian Rugby Championship player to command a starting place in Super Rugby.
He has admitted that life in South Africa is very different to Argentina. Speaking more English (and learning a fair bit of Afrikaans) is only part of the adjustment, as he’s also had to adapt to his team-mates’ daily rituals. South Africans tend to rise earlier than Argentinians, eat dinner earlier, and go to bed earlier.
There will, however, be greater challenges ahead for Carizza and the Stormers in the coming months. The Cape franchise have been done no favours with the Super Rugby draw, and their tour to Australasia could not be more difficult given they play the Crusaders, Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds on consecutive weekends. The results of this tour could determine whether they make the play-offs, or fall short yet again.
The Stormers have come into this tournament with an impressive back row, as Siya Kolisi, Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen all boast international experience. But this strength will be nullified if the Stormers’ tight five fails to front at the set pieces and collisions. With Bekker no longer with the franchise and Etzebeth on the sidelines, Carizza will be tasked with leading that charge. The importance of this man for the Stormers should not be downplayed.
– This article first appeared in the April 2014 issue of SA Rugby magazine