Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is happy with the way that the depth in his squad is developing ahead of the Super Rugby season, but warned that heaping pressure on young shoulders is not the way to do it.
Coetzee gave a number of young players an opportunity to show that they can cut it at Super Rugby level in the pre-season match against the Lions on Friday, and several of them made a big impression.
Physical former SA Under-20 lock Eben Etzebeth led the charge by making a huge impact in the collisions and manhandling a number of Lions on defence.
Coetzee admitted that Etzebeth's performance, which earned him a hearty ovation from the home crowd when he came off, was encouraging as he will compete with Rynhardt Elstadt to partner Andries Bekker in the second row, but cautioned about expecting too much too soon from the young bruiser.
He told this website: "I am very pleased with some of the youngsters who came through. Eben Etzebeth has got potential but he is far from being a Springbok. The way he performed was really quality, so he can play at this level and I am happy with that."
Another player who shone against the Lions was Etzebeth's SA U20 teammate from last year, Siya Kolisi, who initially made an impression in the Currie Cup and is set to cover for Duane Vermeulen in the No.7 jersey this season, with Nick Koster poised to get an extended chance at No.8.
Ikey Tigers stalwart Don Armand, who can play at flank and lock also got a chance to prove himself and did well on the side of the scrum, while Coetzee was equally impressed with the performance of his former UCT teammate Marcel Brache who played in both centre positions.
"A player like Don Armand comes from nowhere and he showed up nicely tonight (Friday). Two years ago Marcel Brache was really found wanting at Ellis Park in his first Currie Cup game, but since then he has improved so much and he looked like a quality player out there," said the Stormers coach.
With locks Bekker, Hilton Lobberts and Quinn Roux still sidelined through injury the versatile Armand may get more of an opportunity in the near future, while Brache seems to be the frontrunner to provide cover in the Stormers' midfield which has been quite depleted since the end of last season.
While Coetzee is quite upbeat about the depth he is currently developing, it is the performance of his front row that will perhaps determine whether the Cape side improve on their semifinal showings in the last two seasons.
The Stormers boss played two entirely different front rows against the Lions, and he will be desperately hoping that young props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe start putting some serious pressure on the more experienced Deon Carstens and Brok Harris this season.
While the Stormers were dominant at line-out time against the Lions they battled in the scrums at times, which is not something completely new, although Coetzee dismissed concerns by explaining that it was a matter of making some small adjustments to bring them up to speed with the way the engagement will be handled this season.
"I am happy with the depth that we have got in the front row at the moment and hopefully we can just improve on that and the timing will come and little things like that," he commented.
Stormers captain Schalk Burger acknowledged how important squad depth will be this season which will see the Super Rugby competition end even later.
"I am looking forward to this season, obviously it is going to be a tough one. It is going to be quite difficult, similar to last year we are in new territory so we will have to manage the players accordingly," he said.
By Michael de Vries
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