Cape Town - The return to fitness of Springbok prop Steven Kitshoff has been off-set for the Stormers by an injury that could sideline Ali Vermaak from the forthcoming Super Rugby tour of New Zealand and Australia.
Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck confirmed to SuperSport.com on Monday that Kitshoff, who missed the first three matches because of a hamstring injury sustained in a pre-season warmup game against the Boland Cavaliers, would be back in the selection mix this week.
"Kitsie is looking really good and will be up for selection. He trained with us this morning and whether he starts or not will depend on how he goes in training tomorrow (Tuesday), but we are expecting him to be ready to face the Jaguares," said Fleck.
The coach said though that the Stormers would definitely be going into Friday's match at Newlands, which is the last before the four match tour of Australasia, without Kitshoff's back-up loosehead prop, Vermaak.
"Ali is struggling with a neck injury and it doesn't look like he will pass fit for Friday and is also unlikely for the tour," said Fleck.
"It is a blow for us and we want him to go on tour, Ali has been really good for us so far this year. He has been outstanding. But fortunately Kitsie is back and he got through this morning's session with flying colours."
Kitshoff's return to fitness should mean that the Stormers will be able to choose their first choice pack for the first time this season.
Well almost, as loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe is out for four more weeks with the injury that forced him to withdraw from the recent clash with the Sharks in Durban.
"Notshe is out for four to six weeks with a shoulder injury (he has already been out for two) and we have decided to take the conservative route of no operation. He should be ready in the second half of our tour should he be needed."
The Stormers are well covered at No 8 though, and Fleck faces an interesting selection between Juarno Augustus and Jaco Coetzee. The latter was excellent in the match against the Sharks, while Augustus is a player of formidable promise.
Fleck has noted that the Jaguares chose what looked an under-strength side for their match against the Lions last week and says his team are expecting a tough battle.
"We have planned really well for the Jaguares. I must say I was surprised they didn't play their top guys against the Lions, but it means we will have a full Test squad playing against us and we will have to be ready for the challenge. We cannot have the scenario where the guys have one foot on the plane and one foot at Newlands," said the coach.
"It is an important game for us. We have been trying to build confidence as we go along since the Bulls game and we are slowly getting there. The group is starting to connect again and we saw in training today how much energy there is in the group. But although we are going on tour on Sunday, we can't look beyond this game.
"In a way it is a tough week as we will have to tell players who aren't touring that they will be staying behind. Everyone wants to tour and the players who miss out will be disappointed."
The Stormers start their tour against the Hurricanes in Wellington before heading to Auckland to face the Blues.
They then cross the Tasman Sea to play two games in Australia, one against the Reds and the other against the Rebels. It's going to be a five week period that will be crucial to the Stormers' hopes of challenging for a place in the playoffs.
Friday's match at Newlands is scheduled for 19:10.