Burly Howard a sensible fill-in for injured Van Wyk

2015-04-21 00:00

CAPE TOWN — A trio of utility backs offer fill-in options for the Stormers if rangy right wing Kobus van Wyk is officially ruled out of the selection mix for Saturday’s key Super Rugby derby against the Bulls at Newlands.

It could be a close call for coach Allister Coetzee and his assistants between Johnny Kotze, Pat Howard and Huw Jones — although there may even be an off-chance that versatile Springbok Jaco Taute is ready slightly ahead of schedule for fresh combat after a lengthy, enforced absence.

The franchise will issue a medical update today, and it seems highly unlikely that Van Wyk will be in the frame after hobbling off in some discomfort with a knee problem in the narrow 13-6 triumph over the Force in Perth.

His absence would be inconvenient as he is an important, big-framed balancer in a Stormers back three not blessed by remarkable height or brawn even if the other members of it, fullback Cheslin Kolbe and left wing Dillyn Leyds, offer strengths in other ways.

The Capetonians were occasionally exposed on their just-concluded overseas tour on defence in the wide positions whenever confronted on the charge by some of the powerhouse wings in the ranks of certain Australasian sides.

Diminutive Kolbe lacks absolutely nothing in courage and played very well in an all-round capacity against the Force, but it is a stark reality that even when he presents his full, 1,71 m and 73 kg frame as an obstacle in such situations, he will be “bounced” every now and then.

Fortunately — and especially if Van Wyk is ruled out — the Bulls don’t have an ­especially beefy back three themselves, ­although all of Jesse Kriel, Bjorn Basson and a resurgent Francois Hougaard are in decent, threatening form.

But if the Stormers nevertheless feel a need to go like-for-like in the expected Van Wyk void, they could do worse than hand a maiden start to Pat Howard, who looked both an elusive and hard-running character in several appearances during Western Province’s Currie Cup-winning season last year.

The 23-year-old undoubtedly has the physical credentials (1,87 m, 100 kg) if they want a relatively imposing specimen at No 14, although both Kotze and Jones are more familiar with current structures ­following fair respective game-time for the Stormers in recent weeks and aren’t ­midgets, either.

Former Michaelhouse star Howard has gained some extra street-wisdom in a stint abroad with Munster, and will join English Premiership outfit Northampton Saints after the 2015 Currie Cup. But that doesn’t preclude the possibility that he may be the most attractive pick for present requirements.

Taute could be the dark horse for a swift recall if he gets the medical nod; there was talk a few weeks back that he would ­probably return to the squad after ­completion of the overseas leg, although the fullback/centre will be rather short of a gallop at this stage.

If ready, he might be a better fit at No. 15 than wing, which could mean the swift Kolbe shifting to a wider station: after his success in the last line of a heroic defence against the Force, however, a switch of roles for the pocket dynamo might not be advisable.

The Stormers will be able to reintroduce rested A-grade Springbok Duane Vermeulen both as captain and No. 8 for the derby. So smart money perhaps suggests a loose trio — bearing in mind the Bulls’ traditional physicality — made up of him, the ceaselessly energetic Schalk Burger and Siya Kolisi, even as Nizaam Carr continues to claw his way back to optimal personal ability.

They name the match-day squad on Thursday.

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