Kurt Coleman and a largely second-string Stormers backline will be targeted in the upcoming derby against the Sharks at Newlands, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Following the departure of Demetri Catrakilis in late 2015, the Stormers failed to sign another experienced flyhalf. The coaching staff showed no concern as the start of the 2016 Super Rugby competition approached.
Coach Robbie Fleck said that youngsters such as Robert du Preez, Coleman, Brandon Thomson and Jean-Luc du Plessis would be backed. He wasn't worried about the fact that, prior to 2016, only Coleman had started at flyhalf at this level.
Injuries have already forced Fleck's hand over the past few weeks. And now, as a crucial derby against the Sharks looms, the Stormers have lost Du Preez to an ankle injury for six weeks.
Coleman is expected to start in Du Preez's place, while Thomson or Du Plessis should move to the bench. Fleck will hope that Coleman remains intact for the duration of the contest. The Stormers cannot afford any further injuries in that No 10 position. They cannot afford to lose any more experienced backs.
The Cape side came into the new season without Springbok centres Damian de Allende and Jaco Taute. Both are only expected to return from their respective knee injuries in April.
The absence of De Allende and Taute has resulted in the coaches opting for a makeshift midfield combination. Juan de Jongh, the side's most experienced back who normally plays No 13, is filling the void at 12. The inexperienced Johnny Kotze, who first made his mark in Super Rugby on the wing, is now tasked with manning that crucial No 13 channel.
Winger Kobus van Wyk was forced to miss the clash against the Cheetahs due to an ankle injury, and may not be fit to face the Sharks. The Stormers backline that starts this Saturday will have a second-string look about it, and may be targeted by a Sharks side searching for an edge.
The Stormers have won their first two matches of the campaign thanks to the prowess of their pack. The tight five was lauded for its game-shaping contribution in the game against the Bulls. Locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit were outstanding once again in the match against the Cheetahs.
However, the Cheetahs did manage to rattle the Stormers at the scrums and breakdowns. This limited the space of the Stormers halfbacks, and the backline as a whole. Afterwards, Fleck lamented the number of handling errors and missed opportunities. Many of these mistakes were made under pressure.
The Stormers forwards need to win the set-piece and breakdown battle this weekend to ensure that Coleman and company remain on the front foot. If the Stormers forwards force their Sharks counterparts to impede, then Coleman's goal-kicking boot could be influential. Coleman kicked three from three in Bloemfontein last week.
That said, if the Sharks manage to hold their own at the set pieces and pressure the Stormers backs through a series of carries up the middle, then the hosts could be in trouble.
And don't be surprised if Gary Gold instructs his halfbacks to target the Stormers back three with a series of garryowens. The Stormers' kicking game, as well as their performance under the high ball, has been disappointing in the first two rounds.
Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/Backpage Media