The season-ending injuries to Kurt Coleman and Dillyn Leyds as well as the unavailability of Robert du Preez will force the Stormers to be creative with regard to their flyhalf selections. JON CARDINELLI reports.
At the beginning of the year, the Stormers' decision to back youth over experience in the flyhalf department was questioned. Coach Robbie Fleck moved to allay concerns, as he felt the Stormers had sufficient quality in a flyhalf group which included the talent of Du Preez, Coleman, Leyds, Jean-Luc du Plessis and SA U20 pivot Brandon Thomson.
Six rounds into the Super Rugby tournament, however, and the Stormers are facing something of a flyhalf crisis. Coleman and Leyds have both sustained season-ending knee injuries. Du Preez will return to the playing field in 2016, but not before July.
As a result, Fleck has been forced to promote the 21-year-old Du Plessis, son of former Springbok and Western Province wing Carel, to the starting position for the clash against the Sunwolves this Friday. Despite the present situation, Fleck is not looking to bring in an experienced flyhalf option from outside the province.
'We're going to have to dig deep and make some clever plans,' said Fleck. 'In the long term, it has always been my intent to back the youngsters. That said, it is a blow to lose guys like Dillyn and Kurt, especially since Kurt was starting to play with confidence after big performances against the Brumbies and Jaguares.
'I rate Jean-Luc highly. He's a complete footballer, the kind of guy who loves to take charge. He plays the situation, and as far as his goal-kicking is concerned, he doesn't get flustered. That's what you want in a flyhalf.
'I've been impressed with his performances to date. He did some good things to open the game up [in the second half against the Brumbies], and got us out of some tricky situations in the latter stages of the match against the Jaguares. I have confidence in his ability.'
Interestingly, Fleck has not named a specialist flyhalf on his reserves bench this week. Thomson hasn't been training with the Stormers for the past month, and will only rejoin their ranks on Monday.
Fleck revealed that Cheslin Kolbe, the Stormers starting fullback, could feature at flyhalf later in the game against the Sunwolves. According to Fleck, Kolbe is the official cover for Du Plessis at flyhalf this week.
'Cheslin's got the passing game and the kicking game to be a success there,' he said. 'In recent games, we've seen him mixing it up later in a match when he comes in at first-receiver [from second phase onwards].'
The Sunwolves are yet to win a match in their first Super Rugby season. And yet Fleck believes that their players, flyhalf Tusi Pisi in particular, will test the Stormers defence this Friday.
'Schalk Burger has spent some time playing alongside Tusi at Suntory Sungoliath in Japan. We know what a good player he is. He takes the ball flat, but can still find men in the wider channels with those long, accurate passes.
'A lot of the Sunwolves' attack centres around him. They play at a lively tempo. They have stretched every team they have played against thus far, and we will have to defend well to keep them out.'
Photo: Thinus Maritz/Gallo Images