Cape Town – If ever Evan Roos wanted to stake a serious claim for the Springbok World Cup squad, Friday night’s United Rugby Championship Stormers clash against Ulster in Belfast is the time to do it.
That is when the just-turned-23year-old Roos will come up against Bok stalwart Duane Vermeulen at Ravenhill Stadium (9.35pm kickoff).
Competition for places in Jacques Nienaber’s Bok squad is as tight as ever, and that’s especially true for the loose forwards.
The Bok management opted to give Vermeulen a breather from the November tour, with Jasper Wiese the starting No 8. Roos, though, also impressed as a starter against England – with Wiese unavailable due to club commitments – despite sustaining a rib injury in the first half of the 27-13 at Twickenham.
The 36-year-old Vermeulen, though, has made it clear that he is pushing hard for a Bok berth in France later this year as well, and will want to remind everyone in South Africa about his ability against his former team on Friday
And what better occasion to do that than against the young upstart Roos, who made his comeback from that rib injury in sensational fashion with a try in a commanding outing in the second half for the Stormers in last Saturday’s 30-16 Champions Cup win over Clermont, which secured a playoff spot.
Roos was his usual all-action self, and almost with his first touch of the ball, he managed to force his way over for a try following a driving maul.
Similarly, Vermeulen rounded off a vital win for Ulster against Sale Sharks with a trademark pick-up from a ruck to barge his way over from close-range.
Stormers forwards coach Rito Hlungwani mentioned the veteran Bok No 8 as one of the main threats from Ulster, but praised Roos for his second-half cameo.
“That first game is almost like he (Roos) just picked up where he left off – that speed and power, that you can’t buy. He showed that last weekend, and hopefully he keeps improving, showing that off and gives us that momentum on attack and defence. We are very happy to have him back,” Hlungwani said from Belfast this week.
“We all know how Ulster play – quite a strong pack, Duane Vermeulen is in that pack. They are a very good mauling side, and probably their strongest point is their kicking game.
“They are very good at kicking those little box-kicks and trapping you in a corner. They have a very strong chase line, try to suffocate you and get penalties.
“Then they put you down into your 22, and maul you from there. That’s pretty much the picture that they have shown in the past couple of games, and even last year as well.”
The Stormers will have to think carefully about their backline as well, with Hlungwani stating that wing Angelo Davids didn’t travel with the team due to a haematoma that only flared up after the Clermont match.
Suleiman Hartzenberg started at right wing last Saturday and should continue in that position against Ulster, but with no Damian Willemse and Dan du Plessis either, there could be a re-jig.
Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu has been training at fullback in recent weeks and could slot in at No 15, with the experienced Clayton Blommetjies at No 14, while the likes of Juan de Jongh and Cornel Smit can partner Ruhan Nel in midfield.
Stormers tour squad
Forwards: Kwenzo Blose, Ben-Jason Dixon, Willie Engelbrecht, Connor Evans, Brok Harris, JJ Kotze, Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, Scarra Ntubeni, Marvin Orie (captain), Junior Pokomela, Evan Roos, Sazi Sandi, Marcel Theunissen, Ruben van Heerden, Andre-Hugo Venter, Ali Vermaak
Backs: Clayton Blommetjies, Juan de Jongh, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Suleiman Hartzenberg, Herschel Jantjies, Imad Khan, Ruhan Nel, Cornel Smit, Stefan Ungerer, Kade Wolhuter