Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is confident his side can beat the Brumbies in Cape Town on Saturday despite losing inspirational captain Duane Vermeulen to injury.
Vermeulen was withdrawn from the Stormers’ match against the Lions on June 6 at the 11th hour with a severe neck spasm, but was cleared of any serious damage after consulting a neurosurgeon early last week.
The influential Springbok number eight has made a big improvement since sitting out the Lions match, and was also rested from this past weekend’s clash against the Sharks, but he will not be risked as the 2015 Final Series gets underway this weekend.
Nizaam Carr, who captained the Stormers against the Sharks last weekend, looks like the logical replacement for Vermeulen.
“I’m pleased with Nemo (Nizaam Carr) – the way he’s come back to form,” Coetzee told the Stormers' official website.
“He’s playing some good rugby again and this would be a great opportunity for him once again.
“Duane is such an imposing player and character and has such a presence in any team he plays for, it would have been great to have him in this match. But Nemo brings something different to the team, I have a helluva lot of trust in the rest of the pack.
“Duane is a natural sort of poacher of the ball as well. While we will be missing that element, Siya Kolisi has (also) stepped up and turned over a number of balls for us this season. The big thing won’t be in poaching, but in the tackle fight – making positive tackles.”
Despite losing Vermeulen for the clash with the Brumbies, Coetzee is hopeful he will still be in action if the Stormers win their play-off.
“It’s just about getting Duane to be pain free and improving his range of movement," he said.
"There’s already been a lot of improvement (in terms of his range), so it’s coming along nicely.
“If you look at another week or two, then who knows, but you want to be absolutely sure. You don’t want to put him back again if he gets another knock. So the decision is based on making sure that Duane will continue once he starts playing again.”
When pressed on a time-frame on Vermeulen, Coetzee added: “As soon as he’s pain-free he’ll start with his cardio sessions again, so we can see if he runs and moves without any discomfort. Obviously, then it would move into a contact situation – that’s the normal protocol.
“It could be in three days… it could be in four days… but once there’s no pain, and there’s full range (through static tests with the physiotherapist) then the next step is on the field and (then) the contact situation.
“The big thing is to make sure the player is mentally comfortable,” stressed the Stormers’ boss, “that is the biggest issue, he has to get over that mental barrier.
“I wouldn’t rule him out completely for the Super Rugby Finals Series, definitely not. Duane will want to play, but we need to make sure – with the medical team (and they’re doing a fantastic job) – that the safety and wellness of the player remains our first priority.”
Meanwhile, in other injury news ahead of this weekend’s encounter, hooker Scarra Ntubeni (calf muscle) could be available for selection after showing good signs at a Stormers training session.
“Scarra is training well and he will be considered should he pass a fitness test after running comfortably today," said Coetzee.
“I want to see him at full tilt, with acceleration on a field tomorrow. Hopefully, weather permitting, he will be on the field and running flat out (tomorrow), changing direction and things like that. That is where the test for his calf injury will be.”
Fly-half Demetri Catrakilis looks set to slot straight back into the starting mix, having recovered very well after suffering a mild concussion against the Lions two weeks ago.
“Dim is fine – he passed his test with flying colours, he’s cleared,” added Coetzee.