Sport / Rugby

Sport Staff
3 minute read
9 Mar 2017
5:26 pm

It’s a midfield merry-go round in Bloem and the Cape

Sport Staff

What do the Cheetahs, Stormers and Kings have in common this week? They can't seem to keep a centre pairing intact.

The injury crisis at the Cheetahs is so deep that Zee Mkhabela, a scrumhalf, needs to play wing this weekend. Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images.

In the build-up to the first weekend of Super Rugby, Cheetahs coach Franco Smith was adamant he didn’t want to discuss his side’s depth.

For too many years, that issue was used as an excuse for the central franchise underperforming.

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But a freakish number of injuries within the first two weeks of this year’s campaign will test Smith’s resolve.

On Thursday, the Cheetahs mentor had to include scrumhalf Zee Mkhabela on the right wing for Saturday’s meeting with the Sunwolves in Bloemfontein.

It’s a perfect illustration of the injury crisis.

Four of Smith’s frontline centres – Francois Venter (ankle), Nico Lee (shoulder), William Small-Smith (finger) and Mikey van der Spuy (concussion) – are on the sidelines, meaning veteran Rayno Benjamin had to shift from wing.

Some might then say it’s fortunate that the Cheetahs play the minnows with all their injuries but Smith doesn’t think so.

“We measure ourselves weekly. It’s not about who we play, it’s how we compare from the previous week,” he said.

** The Stormers have the same problem as they are on their third different centre combination in three weeks.

Daniel du Plessis, son of former Springbok Michael, will be EW Viljoen’s partner against the Kings in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

He’ll slot in after the Capetonians lost Juan de Jongh and Damian de Allende to injury, while Huw Jones is still on international duty.

At least the Stormers don’t have to pick players out of position, with the experienced Bjorn Basson replacing the crocked Cheslin Kolbe at wing.

Regular skipper Siya Kolisi is rested and there’ll be a new front row on duty.

** The Stormers’ opponents and neighbours, ironically enough, also mixed and matched their centre combination.

At least Kings coach Deon Davids admitted it was nothing more than rotation.

“The guys understand that they have to grab their opportunities with both hands. It’s all about performing in the Kings jersey,” he said.

“I’ve rotated Luzuko Vulindlu and Berton Klaasen for our centre combination. I feel that Waylon Murray, with this experience, at No13 will be good for us.”

Maybe things are looking less gloomier for the franchise – rotation is not really a luxury they’ve had before.

Cheetahs (v Sunwolves): Clayton Blommetjies, Zee Mhkabela, Rayno Benjamin, Clinton Swart, Raymond Rhule, Fred Zeilinga, Tian Meyer, Niell Jordaan, Oupa Mohojé, Tier Schoeman, Francois Uys, Justin Basson, Aranos Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marais. Bench: Elandre Huggett, Danie Mienie, Tom Botha, Armandt Koster, Henco Venter, Niel Marais, Ali Mgijima, Ruan van Rensburg.

Stormers (v Kings): SP Marais, Dillyn Leyds, EW Viljoen, Dan du Plessis, Bjorn Basson, Robert du Preez, Dewaldt Duvenage, Nizaam Carr, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Rynhardt Elstadt, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Oli Kebble. Bench: Ramone Samuels, JC Janse van Rensburg, Wilco Louw, Chris van Zyl, Jaco Coetzee, Justin Phillips, Kurt Coleman, Damian Willemse.

Kings: Masixole Banda, Makazole Mapimpi, Waylon Murray, Luzuko Vulindlu, Malcolm Jaer, Lionel Cronjé, Ricky Schroeder, Ruan Lerm, Thembelani Bholi, Chris Cloete, Irné Herbst, Tyler Paul, Ross Geldenhuys, Michael Willemse, Schalk Ferreira. Bench: Kurt Haupt, Schalk van der Merwe, Chris Heiberg, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Andisa Ntsila, Johan Steyn, Pieter-Steyn de Wet, Berton Klaasen.

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