Stormers in a world of injuries
THE Stormers should watch the replay of Chelsea's gritty Champions League performance against Barcelona this week to know that adversity is only a state of mind after the Cape side lost another key player for this week's clash against the Force in Perth.
They had already resigned themselves to meeting the Aussies without inspirational No8 Duane Vermeulen and sparkling wing Gio Aplon, but now they face the match without Vermeulen's replacement, Nick Koster.
Koster has also sustained a knee injury and has come limping home, meaning former SA under-20 player Nizaam Carr makes his first start in the hooped jersey.
Considering the Stormers have already lost Schalk Burger, they're essentially down to the their second-choice loose trio midway through the campaign. Throw in the wrist injury to centre Jean de Villiers, plus the fact that they're in the fourth week on tour, and the task they face seems larger than anything they've met this season.
The Force are hardly the Barcelona of rugby, but if someone had said in January that the Stormers' loose trio would be Carr, Rynhardt Elstadt and Siya Kolisi by mid-season, most people would have written off their chances.
Those youngsters will be up against outstanding Wallaby openside David Pocock.
Yet, they go into the Force match as slight favourites and still supremely confident of producing a third tour win to maintain their grip on top spot of the South African conference.
Coach Allister Coetzee's assertion last year, that blooding youngsters such as Carr and Kolisi in the Currie Cup would benefit the Stormers in the long run, is proving correct.
None of the new men the coach has thrown into the Super 15 have looked out of their depth.
Obviously the plan wasn't for all the youngsters to lead the line, but those are the cards the Stormers have been dealt and so far they have coped well with injury setbacks.
"Despite the injuries, the touring group is in high spirits and is very motivated," Coetzee said. "Our motto for the week is: 'Nothing special has ever been achieved in ideal conditions'."
On the positive side, lock Andries Bekker returns after missing last week's win over the Reds. His lower back problems have eased, although it's unlikely they will fully heal until he has a long break.
Bekker will take over the captaincy and will add the intimidation factor back to the lineout after the team lost four throws last week.
He'll be up against Nathan Sharpe, a canny operator and the man who more than anyone was able to neutralise the Springbok lineout with Victor Matfield in his pomp over the past four years.
Despite the Force's own internal problems with coach Richard Harry's departure last week, this has suddenly turned into the second-toughest tour match after the Crusaders (which the Stormers lost).