Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has to balance the drive for results with good player management in the lead-up to the Vodacom Super Rugby play-offs. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Stormers are in a position of power. They will play three of their last four league matches at Newlands. Three of those matches are against fellow South African teams. The other game is against the Rebels, a side that has never won in Cape Town.
And yet, the Stormers coaches have plenty to ponder. They need to keep winning, not only to guarantee a finish at the top of the South African conference, but to ensure they take some momentum into the play-offs.
At the same time, Coetzee needs to ensure key personnel receive enough rest over the next four weeks. It would be counterproductive to play every player into the ground now and then travel into the knockout rounds with men who are physically and mentally spent.
Coetzee said on Monday that he is confident the bulk of his squad has enjoyed enough rest over the course of this year’s Super Rugby tournament. The Stormers, like the other South African franchises, have an agreement with Saru to rest and manage contracted Springboks with the 2015 World Cup in mind. For the most part, the Stormers have managed their top players well.
There are, however, a few key players who are yet to enjoy a break. Damian de Allende has played 12 games in succession, all in a starting capacity. After a season in Japan, Schalk Burger has played nine straight games for the Stormers, the first two as a substitute, and the next seven as a starter.
The Stormers are coming off a bye, but De Allende and Burger could surely use another week to recover. There is, of course, a chance the Stormers could play seven consecutive games from hereon in. If they don’t finish the league phase in the top two, they will compete in a qualifying play-off. And if they manage to progress to the final from there, they will be playing in their seventh game in as many weeks.
‘We will select our best possible side against the Rebels this week,’ Coetzee said on Monday when asked about the management of his squad and the resting of players. ‘You can look at it and say we have three games at home in the next four weeks, but then you should also look at the conference and realise that we can’t slip up. Rotation has helped over the course of the season, and we may make one or two other changes [in the coming weeks]. But we’ve got to keep getting the results.’
The injury-enforced absence of Springbok and Stormers captain Jean de Villiers has provided De Allende with an opportunity to make the Stormers No 12 jersey his own in 2015. However, the Stormers have been short of real alternatives at inside centre considering another Bok midfielder in Jaco Taute has endured injury troubles of his own. Coetzee said Taute will continue his comeback to rugby via the Vodacom Cup this weekend.
The Stormers are also short on quality flanks at the moment. Rynhardt Elstadt is crocked and won’t be back this season, and Michael Rhodes’s comeback has been stalled by flu. Burger may well have to soldier on at blindside for another week.
Coetzee will also need to work out how to accommodate winger Seabelo Senatla over the next four weeks. Senatla made his Super Rugby debut for the Stormers in the 2014 season, and subsequently toured Europe with the Boks. The multi-talented player focused on sevens during the initial stages of 2015, and recently received a nomination for the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year award.
The Stormers expected to have Senatla available at the end of the World Rugby Sevens Series (which happened to conclude this past weekend). However, Senatla has had a long, taxing season with the Blitzboks, and is carrying a thigh injury. He may not be ready for action this Saturday, and this may impact on his eligibility for the play-offs. Typically, a player has to feature in four regular season games to be available for the knockout rounds.
‘I don’t want to play him if he’s not 100%,’ said Coetzee when it was suggested that Senatla should be included. ‘We will have a look at him over the next few days and investigate the regulations. Even if Seabelo can only play three games in the league phase, it would still be a great help to have him in the mix.’
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