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Joshua Stander © Getty Images

Josh gave Stormers’ win some relevance

The DHL Stormers’ consolation win over the Cell C Sharks that ended a troubled Super Rugby season for the Cape franchise was given some relevance by the performance of debutant flyhallf Joshua Stander.

The youngster, recruited from the Vodacom Bulls in the off-season, was an 11th hour selection for the game after Jean-Luc du Plessis, who was named at No 10 when the team was announced on Thursday, was unavailable because of a groin/hip problem that has been causing him concern.

Du Plessis underwent an operation in the USA late last year in a desperate attempt to save his rugby career, so it is a bit disconcerting to hear that the injury that forced Du Plessis to miss the Sharks game is of a similar type to the one that saw him miss 16 months of rugby - only, as Stormers coach Robbie Fleck put it, it is now “the other hip” that is causing complications.

That being so, Fleck was pleased to see Stander deliver a solid performance on his debut, which included an excellent cross-kick that put the Stormers on the attack with his first touch of the ball in general play, some strong hits, an excellent pass that led to the Stormers’ first try and good game management that included one or two great touch-finders.

“Jean-Luc is still having trouble so we are not sure where we are going to end up with him, so it was good for us to use this game to build up a bit of depth at flyhallf,’ said Fleck.

“Obviously we have been backing Damian (Willemse) and JL so Josh’s opportunities were limited even though I knew he was desperate to play. Today he got his chance and in a tough game played in testing conditions I thought he came through very well. He put us on the front foot and he tackled extremely well. Seeing him handle the game so well was encouraging.”

Fleck said that Du Plessis was going to have to be managed well going forward.

“It is the same groin/hip issue, just the other side. He was uncomfortable during the week. It was a condition he was born with, so we are just going to have to manage him correctly. A decision on whether he should undergo another operation will be taken next week, but the medical personnel tell me that is unlikely at this stage.

“I think we are just going to have to manage him well, be careful about what we expect him to do during the training week. It has been good to see him back on the field.”

Stander was not the only newcomer that Fleck was impressed with at Newlands. Johan du Toit, Pieter-Steph’s brother, has played for the Stormers before - he played a one-off against the Lions last season - but on Saturday he made his first big statement as he came on as a replacement and delivered a performance that made it hard to tell him apart from his more famous brother.

“Josh made a solid debut but I also thought Johan was outstanding. It was good to see both players stick their hands up and it was encouraging for next year. They both showed how eager they are to play for this team. Josh has been working on several aspects of his game and that hard work paid off today.”

Although there was nothing to play for in the game for the Stormers other than pride, Fleck said that a win in the last game was “a nice way to finish”. He said though that the game, with the Stormers allowing the Sharks back into it in the second half, followed what has become a concerning trend for the Stormers.

“It was nice to finish on a high but we built up a good lead at halftime and then it was the recurrence of what has become a bit of a common theme,” said the coach.

“We let ourselves down a bit in the second half. Admittedly the Sharks played a lot better in the second half (than they did in the first), but in the end we did well by showing some pride and character and finishing strongly.”

The win over the Sharks was the Stormers’ last entry into their 2018 Super Rugby log-book as they have a bye next week, the final round of the league phase of competition.


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