Veteran Bok to answer Stormers SOS
INJURY UPDATE: The Stormers are likely to call up a 34-year-old Springbok to plug a gap in their midfield for their United Rugby Championship semifinal on Saturday.
The Stormers, who beat Edinburgh by 28-17 in Cape Town this past weekend, will welcome Ireland’s Ulster to Cape Town this week.
However, a mini injury crisis has developed after a setback in the quarterfinal win over the Scottish visitors.
Coach John Dobson described the Rikus Pretorius leg injury in the fourth minute against Edinburgh as “seismic”, adding that they had a “chuckle” at themselves in the coaching box – having opted for a split of six forwards and two backs on the bench and losing a backline player in the opening minutes.
They were forced to field Sacha Mngomezulu, a 20-year-old flyhalf with only two Currie Cup appearances and no URC experience to his credit, in the midfield.
“That could not have been worse for us,” he said of the setback early in the encounter with the Scottish outfit.
Pretorius remains doubtful and Dobson said he looks “reasonably serious”.
“I am sure he won’t be available next week.”
To complicate matters for the Stormers ahead of this coming Saturday’s semifinal showdown with the Irish powerhouse, Ulster, is the numerous other midfield injuries in the camp.
World Cup-winning Springbok Damian Willemse (arm injury) missed the quarterfinal and remains on the doubtful list, with the most recent prognoses putting a possible return date at six weeks away.
He is set to go for a new scan and Dobson said he is “keen to play, but I can’t see that happening”.
Dan du Plessis (concussion) has started running again, but will be a risk – given that he last played in February.
In Cornel Smit they have another ‘inexperienced’ option.
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The coach said Juan de Jongh may well be the “obvious choice” to plug the midfield gap.
De Jongh, who played the last of his 19 Tests against New Zealand in 2016, brings with him the experience of 200-odd first-class games between Western Province, the Stormers and Wasps.
“Juan had a good game,” Dobson said of the veteran’s performance for WP in a nailbiting 41-43 Currie Cup loss to Griquas in Stellenbosch at the weekend.
Apart from the injury conundrum, he feels his team is up for the challenge that the Irish province will deliver.
Dobson bemoaned the team’s inability to convert into points the opportunities they created against Edinburgh, saying those will be far fewer against Ulster.
“There are minor issues that are fixable,” the coach said.
Dobson said they learnt a lot from their previous encounter with Ulster – a 23-20 squeaker for the Stormers in Cape Town back in late March.
“We have developed a plan against being trapped inside our own 22 like then,” the coach said, adding that they have not fallen into the same trap since.