Stormers’ leader no obvious choice

Schalk Burger could be the Stormers’ new skipper
Schalk Burger could be the Stormers’ new skipper

Absence of injured De Villiers poses headache for coach

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee will unveil his captain for the season on Friday at the team’s Hermanus camp and the only guarantee is that it will not be Jean de Villiers.

Picture: GALLO IMAGESIN RUNNING: Schalk Burger could be the Stormers’ new skipperThe Bok skipper will miss the entire Super Rugby campaign and possibly the World Cup in September after a serious knee injury sustained against Wales in November.

Coetzee should logically turn to Schalk Burger but the flank will not join up with the Stormers until his Japanese club commitments with Suntory Sungoliath are complete.

And that could take until week five.

Coetzee might still name Burger as captain and appoint an interim leader who would need to set the tone for the competition’s opening month.

Currie Cup skipper Juan de Jongh is the next obvious candidate to continue in the role he performed by leading Western Province during their run to the title last year.

De Jongh ticks most of the boxes – he is experienced, is guaranteed of his starting place and has proven himself, albeit at a different level.

But guiding and leading a group of youngsters is one thing, commanding a team in such a gruelling contest is another matter. Unlike the Currie Cup, Super Rugby makes massive off-field and media demands of the skipper.

De Jongh managed that aspect well in Currie Cup, but he is not the most gregarious personality with the media.

Next to De Villiers and Burger, no one is. That pair have the respect of fans, opponents, teammates and the media and their abilities to defuse a controversial situation with a witty comment or to manage referees are valuable assets.

Coetzee might then opt to make Duane Vermeulen short-term captain. The burly No 8 is a natural leader and one of the core leadership group in the team. He is also articulate off the field and a man who commands respect.

Meanwhile, as England coach Stuart Lancaster digested news of the broken leg suffered by his first-choice No 8 Ben Morgan, a 36-year-old delivered a virtuoso performance in that position which revived calls for his international return.

Nick Easter inspired Harlequins to a 32-12 Premiership victory over Leicester on Saturday, defying his years to make hard yards in the loose and frequently finding holes in the defence with clever footwork and quick hands.

Easter won the last of his 47 England caps in 2011 and has never played for his country under Lancaster but Morgan’s injury could force a rethink with the Six Nations looming large ahead of this year’s World Cup.

“I’ve stopped speaking to Stuart Lancaster about Nick,” Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea said. “Nick wants to play for England. Stuart’s worry has always been, will he get to the World Cup with the ability to play at that intensity and pace? Look at that performance against Leicester.”

The highlight of his display against Leicester was the gravity-defying one-handed offload which released Danny Care for the game’s opening try.

England have a well organised and effective forward pack full of powerful scrummagers, strong runners and fierce tacklers but Lancaster is short of game-changers.

A back-row of Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood and, in the absence of Morgan, Billy Vunipola does not possess the guile and craft which Easter has in abundance.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have Nick at the club while I’ve been here – he plays at a level very few people can. That offload [to Care] wasn’t just world class, it was out of this world,” O’Shea said.

“The harder the going gets and the more we’re under pressure, the better he plays – I said to him four years ago I’d stop playing him every week, but I can’t.”

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