Robbie Fleck. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/GRANT PITCHER
Robbie Fleck. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/GRANT PITCHER

Stormers coach Robbie Fleck had a few last-minute injuries to contend with when selecting his team to face the Bulls in their Super Rugby opener at Loftus on Saturday.

As expected, Bok loosehead Steven Kitshoff has been ruled out with a grade-two hamstring tear that will keep him on the sidelines for four to six weeks.

Exciting looseforward Juarno Augustus also cried off after suffering an ankle injury at training this week‚ which will rule him out for seven to 10 days. Bok veteran Frans Malherbe will also miss out because of bruising on the knee.

Wing Sergeal Petersen also had not recovered enough from a foot injury to be considered, while lock Eben Etzebeth has a back injury. Leaving him out was precautionary as he trained on Thursday.

Despite all the injuries, Fleck was able to pick nine capped Springboks in his starting line-up‚ including Bok skipper Siya Kolisi‚ who only played 40 minutes during the preseason.

“The hope is that Steven Kitshoff will be back for our tour [in four weeks]‚” Fleck said. “Up until this week we were looking good on the injury front. We had these few setbacks in the last couple of days‚ but luckily most aren’t serious barring Kitsie‚ so it’s not too bad. It’s part of the game.”

Damian Willemse will start at flyhalf even though Fleck admitted the Bok is also in their plans as a fullback with Jean-Luc du Plessis on the bench. 

Later in the game Du Plessis is expected to come on at flyhalf with Willemse moving to fullback.

“It’s important that Damian gets a good outing at 10 and control the game from there. That is important for his development, and later in the game Jean-Luc can give us something else‚” Fleck said. “There is no bigger game than the Bulls at Loftus. We have three derbies to start the campaign so we need to start well.

“The Bulls have a good team and they have experience in Duane Vermeulen‚ Schalk Brits and Lood de Jager‚ which they didn’t have when we played them last year. Those three in particular will certainly help them. It’s going to be tough.”

The Stormers did not win an away games last season and with six away matches in their first eight outings of the season‚ they are under pressure to find a way to win on the road.

“We know we struggled on the road last year‚” Kolisi said. “But we know that if we win a few on the road we will be in a good place‚ so this weekend is all we are focusing on because we have struggled at Loftus in the past two years.”

Fleck also picked inexperienced Salmaan Moerat at lock with Kobus van Dyk on the bench because of the threat the Bulls lineout poses with Vermeulen and De Jager in particular marshalling the set piece.

“Duane adds a lot of value, as do Lood and Schalk. We saw how effective Lood and Duane were to the lineout during the Super Hero Sunday game [De Jager poached three Stormers’ balls].

“Duane is also very good on the ground‚ so it will be a real battle.”

Centre Ruhan Nel will make his Super Rugby debut where he partners Damian de Allende in the midfield, while prop Corne Fourie is also set for a Stormers debut off the bench.

Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds‚ 14 JJ Engelbrecht‚ 13 Ruhan Nel‚ 12 Damian de Allende‚ 11 SP Marais‚ 10 Damian Willemse‚ 9 Jano Vermaak‚ 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe‚ 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit‚ 6 Siya Kolisi (captain)‚ 5 JD Schickerling‚ 4 Salmaan Moerat‚ 3 Wilco Louw‚ 2 Bongi Mbonambi‚ 1 Ali Vermaak.

Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni‚ 17 Corne Fourie‚ 18 Neethling Fouche‚ 19 Chris van Zyl‚ 20 Kobus van Dyk‚ 21 Herschel Jantjies‚ 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis‚ 23 Dan du Plessis