No clarity on Cornal

The Stormers look set to begin the Super Rugby tournament without Cornal Hendricks and several other key players. JON CARDINELLI reports.

The Stormers will face the Jaguares, Argentina’s new Super Rugby franchise, in a friendly match at Newlands this Saturday. The contest should provide an insight into where the Stormers stand at present, and how they will fare when the tournament commences later this month.

The Cape franchise will begin the latest instalment of Super Rugby without several prominent players in tow. Springbok centres Damian de Allende and Jaco Taute have been ruled out until April due to serious knee injuries. New recruit Hendricks could also be sidelined for a lengthy period due to what’s been reported in the media as a serious heart condition.

On Thursday, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck refused to comment on the nature of Hendricks’s ailment. Fleck did suggest that Hendricks will not be available until further notice.

‘We will back the youngsters to come through,’ Fleck said. ‘At the moment, Cornal is with Saru.’

It is significant to note that the players returning from club duty in Japan, namely Eben Etzebeth and Schalk Burger, had been given the weekend off to recuperate. More concerning is that Burger is carrying a calf injury.

Fleck confirmed that another Bok loose forward in Siya Kolisi (calf) and Bok prop Frans Malherbe (ankle) weren’t considered due to injuries. Both have been training on the side of the field over the past few days. They will only resume training with the full squad on Monday.

Two more key players will miss the Jaguares match this Saturday. Juan de Jongh and Cheslin Kolbe have returned to the squad after a spell with the Springbok Sevens side, and have been granted the weekend off.

While both players displayed fine form in the shorter format, they will be hard pressed to catch up with the rest of the Stormers squad in terms of physical preparation. The Stormers begin their Super Rugby campaign on 27 February with an especially bruising encounter against the Bulls.

The absence and unavailability of so many players has seen Fleck delaying the announcement of his official captain for the season. It may be another week yet before the Stormers know who will be ready to front the Bulls.

‘Integrating these players back into the squad is the challenge,’ said Fleck. ‘We always knew that the players would be returning from Japan at this point, and that they would be fit given the way they play rugby over there. But they will have to get back physically [to the standard required for Super Rugby].

‘It’s the same with Cheslin and Juan returning from sevens. You do lose a bit of bulk [playing in that format]. They return to us in great form, but they will need to hit the gym [over the next two weeks].’

Fleck said that the side selected to play the Jaguares will have a point to prove at the breakdown, both in terms of speed and physicality.

‘We were outmuscled there by the Brumbies [in last year’s play-off],’ said Fleck. ‘I would like to see a real improvement there.

‘Our focus this past week has been on our attacking breakdowns. The Argentinians have shown that they get off the line very quick, and that they are hard on the ball at the breakdown.

'We’ve been too slack in the past in terms of getting to the ruck early and clearing the opposition away. It’s an attitude thing, and needs to improve.’

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli