No respite for Stormers



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There was no respite on Monday from the tidal wave of injuries that has left the Stormers Super 14 campaign teetering on the brink of a crisis.

The brilliant Stormers hooker Tiaan Liebenberg who won the ‘Man-of-the Match’ award at Newlands against the Highlanders on Saturday is the latest player to join the ranks of the team’s ever-growing list of walking wounded.

“Tiaan came off in Saturday’s match with some discomfort in one of his knees. On Sunday the knee starting swelling,” said Stormers media liaison officer Frikkie Erasmus.

“It was discovered that the injury was so bad that he’s unlikely to play Super 14 again this season.”

Liebenberg been playing out of his skin this season, enough to be considered a contender for Springbok colours.

Apart from his role in the set-pieces his all-round play was such that it seemed like the Stormers were enjoying the luxury of having an extra loose forward on the park at times.

His mobility has been a telling factor in a side that has swept its way up the Super 14 with enterprising try-scoring sorties, and that was wonderfully demonstrated on Saturday when he ranged up in full cry on the end of a backline move before corkscrewing his way over at the corner flag for the first of the Stormers’ two tries.

The Stormers are up against two Australian sides in the next fortnight and on Monday morning the Aussie media reported that the play-off fortunes of the Brumbies and Waratahs will be significantly boosted by the absence of Schalk Burger.

They will enjoy an even greater lift when news that the talismanic Liebenberg has also been laid low by injury. There was, however, some good news for the Stormers.

Scans taken on Monday has revealed that Stormers back-up flyhalf Tony Brown has not suffered serious rib damage and should be available for selection against the Brumbies at Newlands on Saturday.

“Tony’s injury is not serious but he will be rested this week,” said Erasmus.

Brown’s availability will offer a measure of relief for the Stormers who have already been cruelly stripped of match winners Schalk Burger (flank), Tonderai Chavhanga (wing), JD Moller (prop) and Liebenberg for the rest of the Super 14 season.

The Stormers made a brave attempt at regrouping in the absence of Moller and Tonderai but it was evident on Saturday that their attacking prowess was severely blunted when injuries forced Brown and the inspirational Burger to retire prematurely against the Highlanders.

As a result, the Stormers failed to score four tries against a side that hitherto managed only one win in nine outings. On top of that the Highlanders arrived at Newlands with record showing that on average they concede three tries per match, and the Stormers failed to enforce that statistic.

The Brown-Burger setback forced coach Rassie Erasmus to deviate from his original match plan and his side’s fortunes took a further knock when the Highlanders proved adept at slowing down possession at the breakdown, as well as shutting down the supply in the contact situations.

Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus stopped short of saying his side’s performance was hamstrung by spoiling tactics. “No, I don’t want to say it was spoiling tactics,” Erasmus argued.

“It was more about our lack of accuracy at the breakdowns. We weren’t accurate in the way we cleaned out when contesting possession.”

The loss of a bonus point for four or more tries may come back to haunt the Stormers, given the logjam in the play-off zone.

Realistically, the Stormers are competing with five other teams (Waratahs, Sharks, Chiefs, Hurricanes and the Brumbies) for three play-off berths.

The only side assured of a play-off place is the Crusaders, who head the log with a lead of seven points.

All the Super 14 teams still have three rounds of matches to play, and apart from winning their matches, the Stormers’ play-offs charge may get a further lift if fellow SA Super 14 teams are victorious in some of the remaining matches.

On Saturday, the Bulls and the Lions can do the Stormers a favour if they win against the Waratahs and Hurricanes respectively.

Next week, the Bulls and the Lions are again matched against sides that are in competition with the Stormers for the play-offs.

Rassie Erasmus has made it clear that his team does not have the resources to think about what favours other SA teams can do for the Stormers.

“We’re too focused on the job at hand,” said Erasmus.

“We must do what we have to do. We’ll lose our way if we start looking at what other SA teams can do for us.

“If SA teams win its great for South African rugby, and a bonus for us.”

Sapa –

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