RUGBY NEWS - The DHL Stormers will be without one of their most penetrative and influential outside backs in the form of Ruhan Nel when they tackle the Vodacom Bulls in their second PRO14 Rainbow Cup SA fixture at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday evening.
Nel has been released by head coach John Dobson to the Springbok Sevens training camp currently being held as start of the preparation for the Blitzbok challenge for the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics later in the year.
Although he was the unfortunate player that failed to force the ball down for what would have been the winning try off the last move of the game against the Cell C Sharks last week, Nel was in excellent form and was arguably the Stormers back that most troubled the Durban team’s defensive system.
However Dobson explained after the game that he had agreed to release Nel to the Sevens at some point. At the time he wasn’t sure exactly when he would do it, he was waiting to have a chat with Blitzbok coach Neil Powell, but assistant coach Dawie Snyman confirmed on Tuesday that Nel is training with the national Sevens squad this week.
“Playing at the Olympics and winning a gold medal is one of Ruhan’s lifelong dreams and we don’t want to stand in his way so we have released him to the Blitzboks for this week,” said Snyman.
Dan du Plessis, though not a natural outside centre, is the obvious replacement for Nel in the Bulls game, with young Cornel Smit likely to be rewarded for his excellent performances in the preparation series by being included in the match day squad for what would be his first competition game at the highest level if he gets onto the field.
“We have Dan and Cornel to slot in and Cornel was really good in the preparation series against both the Cheetahs and Griquas. He is a player with an exciting future,” said Snyman.
According to Snyman, Smit has the qualities that would otherwise be missed in Nel’s absence.
“He is an explosive runner and he has good timing when he hits the line and when he accelerates. He likes attacking and having ball in hand. We have worked hard on his defence and that has come good. He spent a lot of time with Norman (defence coach Norman Laker) as it was an area of his game we identified as a need for work a few years ago. In the preparation games he was spot on.”
While the Stormers do have capable replacements, it is still a blow to them to be playing this important fixture without Nel.“I thought that Rikus Pretorius and Ruhan worked really well when they were together as a midfield combination and it was a great pity we had to change that when we got the red card (to Seabelo Senatla),” said head coach Dobson after Saturday’s three point defeat to the Sharks.
The change to the midfield will be one of at least two to the Stormers backline for the Bulls game. Kade Wolhuter’s injury will see him out for several months, with Abner van Reenen set to continue where he left off as a flyhalf replacement in the clash with the Bulls.
Although the disciplinary hearing for Willie Engelbrecht and himself is only set for Wednesday, it also seems unlikely that Seabelo Senatla will escape some kind of suspension for the red card he was shown for his reckless challenge on Sharks fullback Aphelele Fassie in the Cape Town Stadium game.
The good news there however is that the experienced Sergeal Petersen is fit again and ready to take his place should he be required, with another contender for a place on the wing being Leolin Zas, who was also in good form in the preparation series.
The news on lock JD Schickerling is that he has not trained as yet this week because of an ankle injury. Although Snyman said that a decision will be made later in the week it would seem unlikely that he will play against the Bulls. The likely replacement for Schickerling would be David Meihuizen while Evan Roos is the obvious replacement for No8 Engelbrecht should he incur a suspension at Wednesday's disciplinary hearing.
The Stormers team for the Bulls match is to be announced on Friday.