Johannesburg — The Stormers will restart their United Rugby Championship rejuvenated after a well-deserved break but, critically, will do so without the services of some of their most important and key personnel this weekend.
Chiefs among them will be Manie Libbok, the flyhalf wrapping up his national duty against England on Saturday for the Springboks. That will leave the Cape-based side bereft of their talisman pivot and as shown in his recent performance against Italy, they will miss his services.
The 25-year-old had a near flawless cameo against the Azzurri – his passing crisp, his attacking lines full of vision, and his kicking game on point. His 30-odd-minutes on the field certainly got tongues wagging.
Nevertheless, Stormers assistant coach Norman Laker expressed the belief that while it will be a slight set-back not having Libbok on the field against Scarlets on Friday in URC action (7pm kickoff), they have the players who can do the business for the defending champions.
“The nice thing about us is that we have good depth,” said Laker.
“When we lose quality players like Manie, it is never nice but the positive is that we have guys that have practiced with him, who understand the system and know what we want to achieve. The guys that are selected in his position will do well.
“Another positive is that we have two fantastic scrumhalves (Herschel Jantjies and Paul de Wet), who have played with Manie and who have helped him look good. It is also the guys inside and outside of him who are quality players.”
One would expect that Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu would be the second-in-command after Libbok, but the 20-year-old is a doubt for the clash against the Welsh franchise. Feinberg-Mngomezulu recently limped off of the field while playing for SA A in a tour match against Bristol Bears, and the Cape-based side were still waiting for a medical update on his fitness.
As pointed out by Laker, the squad – luckily – have the depth to overcome this most pressing of concerns.
“We have Kade Wolhuter, who has been training with us for a while,” he said.
“We also have an old warhorse in Jean-Luc du Plessis, who is back at the union. So, yes, we have enough experience at No 10 and we have built enough depth there lately.
“Kade has got a bright future ahead of him. He obviously hasn’t had a lot of game time lately due to injury, but he was playing very well (before that).
“Jean-Luc is 28-years-old and he has played a lot of games … Everyone is excited to see (Kade). The positive thing is that we have guys around him who have been in the system and who have been Springboks …
“Everyone can be calm that the guy we select can do his job.”
Libbok will not be the only key player missing for the Stormers this weekend, and quite possibly over the next few matchdays.
Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Salmaan Moerat, Marvin Orie, Evan Roos and Damian Willems are all in London as the Boks prepare to play England in the last of their Tests of the their November tour.
Laker was steadfast, however, that the Stormers have the personnel to overcome a much-improved Scarlets outfit.
“The guys that we have available are just as good,” said Laker.
“They might not have the experience, but they are very good guys that we have. We have been working with them over the last couple of years.
“These are guys that have put up their hands in training, they have some games under their belt, so it will be nice to see what they are capable of and what they bring to the party.”