Stormers to unleash old dog of war

The Stormers are set to recall a veteran center after Rikus Pretorius became the latest midfield casualty in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship quarter-final win over Edinburgh on Saturday, reports DYLAN JACK,

Despite suffering a key injury, the Stormers claimed a 28-17 victory at Cape Town Stadium to set up a last-four showdown against former captain Duane Vermeulen and Ulster in the semi-finals.

However, John Dobson is sweating over his options in midfield after Pretorius , in the team as a replacement for the injured Damian Willemse , limped off against Edinburgh with what appeared to be a high ankle sprain and was in a moon boot post-game.

That brought 20-year-old debutant Sacha Mngomezulu into the match. The youngster was surprisingly named as one of only two backline replacements on the bench as Dobson opted for a six-two split.

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“That was seismic,” Dobson said on Pretorius’ early withdrawal. “Sitting in the coaches’ box, we almost laughed because we didn’t have Juan de Jongh on the bench. We wanted to cover other positions and go six-two. We brought in Rikus, who has been out with a long-term injury, and he is off in two minutes.

“Then Sacha comes on. He’s hardly played in the Currie Cup. That injury couldn’t have been worse for us. But I think Sacha did really well. He just scrapped for us, because he hasn’t played enough rugby.”

Stormers co-captain Salmaan Moerat was full of praise for his rookie teammate, who stood up well to the physical challenge of the contest.

“There wasn’t really time to let shoulders drop after Rikus went off,” Moerat said. “We knew that Sacha is a young player, but he is very capable. We didn’t doubt him at all. So when he came on, the plan didn’t change. I really need to compliment Sacha. I think he did really well.”

Dobson said Willemse will be sent for a second opinion on his injured arm, but it looks likely that Juan de Jongh will be recalled for the semi-final against Ulster. De Jongh (34) made his Stormers debut in 2010, earned 19 Test caps for the Springboks between 2010 and 2016, and returned to Western Province in 2021 after a four-year stint at English Premiership club Wasps.

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“The initial assessment on Damian was confirmed [on Friday], It was about six weeks, but we are getting it rescanned and looked at again. He is really keen to play, but I can’t see that happening,” said the Stormers coach.

“Rikus also looks reasonably serious. He has gone for a scan. The first assumption was that it could be a broken tibia, which it is not. That was the first message from the doctor, but I am sure that he won’t play next week.

“Juan had a good game against Griquas. Dan du Plessis last played in late January, so while he is back on the field and running, we can’t risk him for a game of this magnitude. Juan will be the one we will turn to.”

The Stormers will have to be on top form as Ulster completely outplayed Munster in the first quarter-final on Friday night.

The regular season clash between the two sides saw the Stormers having to weather a second-half onslaught from Ulster as the Capetonians successfully defended a three-point lead in the final 20 minutes.

“We learned a lot from that game,” Dobson said. “Remember how they trapped us in that corner of the field? We have evolved a plan since then. It hasn’t happened to us since. Edinburgh tried to do it [on Saturday], but we were prepared for that. It was a really impressive performance from Ulster on Friday night, though. ,

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The previous encounter was memorable for a particularly controversial moment when a potential winning try for Ulster was ruled out and the Stormers were awarded a five-metre scrum, despite it appearing that replacement prop Callum Reid lost the ball backwards and then grounded it.

“That was a big talking point, wasn’t it? I think some other South African coach said that we were lucky,” Dobson said. “The thing about it, is that I do think we were lucky. I still think that, at most, it would have been a scrum to Ulster. Our scrum was in charge so we could have still got the penalty.

“I am pretty sure that there will be an element of revenge to it. What I do guarantee is that we will be better at handling the way Ulster played. We learned a lesson in that game. They really had us caught and beat, but we are better for that.”

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images

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