The Stormers will need every bit of strength they can get to make the most of their three games on tour
Being without one of your first-choice players in any position heading into a match is always a tough one. Make that position in the front row and that match a Super Rugby one on tour and that situation becomes even more unpleasant.
The Stormers don’t need too much briefing on the irksome situations being without a key player brings, as being bothered by injuries has almost become a part of their Super Rugby identity.
And most of those recent injuries crept in even before the 2018 Super season began.
This weekend the Stormers will be without Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi after his appendix burst last Friday ahead of their opener against the Jaguares.
Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck has named Ramone Samuels – who was a late replacement for Mbonambi against the Argentinians at the weekend, and Dean Muir – who made his Stormers debut against the Jaguares – in his 27-man squad for their tour to Australasia.
And while Fleck was pleased with the performance of Samuels (pictured) in open play at Newlands and impressed with Muir’s debut work, it’s going to take more than a decent line-out performance against the Crusaders and the Highlanders, who the Stormers face after their game at the Sydney Football Stadium.
And don’t discard the Waratahs as opposition who could exploit the Stormers’ line-out shortcomings too quickly either.
The set-piece is obviously one of the Stormers’ strengths, and they will need every bit of strength they can get to make the most of their three games on tour.
So, can the Stormers’ line-out rule without Mbonambi?
Fleck’s side are of course already without the presence, muscle and pure ability of Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth, while Pieter-Steph du Toit has been cleared to run out this weekend. And although injury to Etzebeth is always a blow, last week’s solid outings from Man-of-the-Match JD Schickerling and Chris van Zyl did enough to prevent a full-out line-out panic situation. Couple that situation with skew and overthrown balls and the Stormers’ line-out would be a disaster.
Yet while Schickerling and Van Zyl did nothing wrong, there were a couple of concerning moments, especially in the first half, when
the two teams aligned for the throw-in in front of a scattered crowd of 18 093.
A couple of Samuels’ throws went skew, thus handing the Jaguares the scrum. And he also overthrew his jumper, something that simply cannot happen on tour without the Stormers getting punished..
Granted Mbonambi was a late withdrawal and Samuels probably didn’t spend as much time with the jumpers as would have been ideal for someone starting a game, but things have to be different in Australia on Saturday.
Whether the Stormers simplify their line-outs calls or find a quick solution to their line-out wobbles, they have to do better against the ’Tahs, not even to mention the Kiwis.
On Saturday it was evident how hard work and possession can go lost if a team doesn’t get it right at the line-out, and it wouldn’t be very pleasant for the Stormers if the Waratahs use that spilt or skew ball to get maximum reward.
And thus Fleck would have worked hard with his team to ensure there won’t be any crooked moments from the Stormers this weekend – at the line-outs or anywhere else on the field.