Super Rugby

Stormers may spring some selection surprises

Ernst van Rhyn looks set to be the man who will fill the boots vacated by the injured Pieter-Steph du Toit but otherwise it is difficult to take a hard and fast line on what selection Stormers coach John Dobson will come up with for Saturday's crucial Durban derby match against the Sharks.

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While the former national age-group captain was mentioned by Dobson as the likely replacement for the injured World Rugby Player of the Year, he also hinted at potential changes elsewhere, including in the key flyhalf position.

The name of Johan du Toit, Pieter-Steph’s brother, was bandied about at a press conference at Stormers headquarters on Monday, leading to speculation that he could be the man to replace his more famous brother at blindside flank in Saturday’s clash at King's Park.

The other contender was Cobus Wiese, who has played much of his rugby for the Stormers in the No 7 jersey.

However, judging from the way the Stormers were training on Tuesday morning, it seems that Dobson might be considering Wiese as a potential solution to a perceived need to introduce extra Eben Etzebeth type grunt to the starting second row.

The younger Du Toit will be part of the match-day squad, but Dobson pretty much let the cat out of the bag when he was asked by being his usual honest self and doing what lots of coaches don't do by answering a straight question with a straight answer.

"The shame of our performance last time out against the Blues has been haunting us, how we lacked when it came to work-rate and let ourselves down, and putting that right has been our main driver at training sessions since then so Pieter-Steph's absence hasn't been spoken about much," said Dobson.

"I think we've decided that Ernst is the most similar to Pieter-Steph, the player most likely to fit in as a like for like replacement. Jaco (Coetzee) and Trokkie (Juarno Augustus) were two of the players who owned up to the rest of the players and felt they had let us down against the Blues, so we would expect a response from them this week. So that is likely to be our loose trio."

Faith in Willemse

When it comes to some other areas though there is less certainty, and we may even see Jean-Luc du Plessis move to flyhalf this week and Damian Willemse switching to fullback, possibly in a quest to front the Sharks' now feared kicking game.

Dobson would be reluctant to move Dillyn Leyds, who regards as one of the best fullbacks in the country, but Leyds is at home on the wing as he is in the last line of defence.

"Playing Jean-Luc at No 10 and Damian at fullback is an option," said the Stormers coach. "It is something we are discussing. But at the same time if something is not completely broken we don't want to panic. If we move Damian to fullback then we have to drop Dillyn, who is one of the best fullbacks in the country."

Du Plessis has done well and shown great composure every time he has come onto the field for the Stormers this season and probably deserves a start in the No 10 at some point.

Willemse played well at fullback for the Stormers last year and was probably the form South African based player in that position in Super Rugby.

However, Dobson believes in Willemse as a pivot, and appears understandably reluctant to undermine his confidence in his ability to play the position.

"If you watched the Blues game carefully you would see that the loss there had nothing to do with Damian, it was all about our pack not working. We must be pretty forensic in our assessment of what went wrong in that game and how to put it right and beware of emotional generalisations. People say Damian is on the ground a lot. It is true he is on the ground a lot for a flyhalf, but the plan there is that if he takes the ball to the line Dillyn must be first receiver. They can't both be at that breakdown.

"People see Damian miss a few kicks at posts, or see him not getting much distance with his field kicks, which I agree is a problem, or they see him drop a pass and suddenly they think he is having a poor season. It is true he is not completely at the top of his game, but I think he is being overly criticised. Not many players would have been able to make the pass from which Sergeal Petersen scored our second try against the Blues. But Damian has run a lot at No 15 in training this week and that change is an option."

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