Fleck backs second-row depth

Robbie Fleck is confident that the Stormers will be able to cope in the absence of in-form Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Etzebeth has been ruled out for four to six weeks after injuring his calf in training earlier this week, which has forced Fleck to reconsider his second-row options at a key stage in the Stormers’ campaign.

Etzebeth has been in sublime form this season, and has consistently been one of the top-ranked players when it comes to lineouts stolen. In the absence of the 24-year-old, Fleck has had to shift young JD Schickerling to No 4 for this Friday’s clash against the Sunwolves, while Pieter-Steph du Toit returns to the second row after he was rested against the Jaguares.

The Stormers coach said he didn’t feel the dynamics of the Stormers’ second row would change all that much, but lamented the timing of Etzebeth’s injury.

‘Eben is obviously a world-class athlete, and it’s unfortunate to lose him now. We are heading into a long, tough month of competition, and for me, Eben’s been playing some of his best rugby in a Stormers jersey. From a lineout contesting point of view he has really been outstanding, and he showed that again when he won two lineouts towards the end of the game against the Jaguares, but hopefully he will only be out for four weeks.’

Fellow second rower Jan de Klerk is also set for an extended spell on the sidelines after picking up a foot injury against the Jaguares, but the Stormers have at least been able to welcome Rynhardt Elstadt back to the fray.

‘Rynhardt is an experienced campaigner. Just a few years ago he very nearly became a Springbok when he was playing as a No 4,’ Fleck commented. ‘He can bring a lot of mobility to our side and I think he’ll have a huge impact off the bench [this Friday]. Then JD has also been very impressive as a youngster, it will be a little bit different for him playing at 4, but he’s a quality performer at the lineout and he’s learning quickly. He was very good when it came to running the lineouts against the Jaguares, so I think from a contesting point of view now, it will be quite easy for him to adjust.’

After facing the Sunwolves on Friday, the Stormers will face the Sunwolves, Lions, Reds and Waratahs before their next bye, and it’s during this period that the Cape-based side will be determined to consolidate their prime position in the Africa 1 conference.

Stormers team to play Sunwolves

Photo: Thinus Maritz/Gallo Images

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