UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Senatla and Coetzee to miss URC quarterfinals while Sharks embrace ‘no hopers’ tag
A car accident has ruled Stormers wing Seabelo Senatla out of the United Rugby Championship quarterfinal against the Bulls, while the Pretoria side has also endured a setback.
Leolin Zas will start on the wing for the Stormers in place of the slightly injured Seabelo Senatla, while the Bulls had a request for influential flank Marcell Coetzee to play in the United Rugby Championship (URC) turned down.
Stormers coach John Dobson confirmed that Senatla was due to start but a car accident on Thursday night ruled him out of the quarterfinal clash at Cape Town Stadium. No other details were made available other than that Senatla was not injured.
“Seabelo was in a car accident yesterday evening. He is okay, but he is in no shape to play a rugby game this week,” said Dobson. “We’ll leave it there for now because family is involved, but that is why he’s not playing.”
Zas, who was the leading try scorer in the 2022 URC, has not played since January after a glute injury. It’s not an ideal scenario for the Stormers as they also had to revert to a 6/2 split between forwards and backs on the bench in Senatla’s absence.
“We were going to go with a 5/3 bench split to cover Zas, because he hasn’t played for so long, but unfortunately, what happened last night (the accident) changed the picture a bit,” Dobson said.
“It’s going to be challenging given the length of his (Zas’s) break. I’d be surprised if he gets to 80 minutes, but he is fit and strong and trains hard, so it depends on what the game looks like.
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“If they go to the boot and play the aerial game, then I think he’ll be fine. We’ll keep an eye on his GPS, keep him warm at half-time and see how he goes.”
But the squad has wing options with utility back Damian Willemse, scrumhalf Paul de Wet and the rapid looseforward Hacjivah Dayimani able to cover wing if needed.
Dayimani ran a 10.6-second 100m in matric at Jeppe Boys High in 2015.
Bulls coach Jake White hoped to include veteran Bok flank Marcell Coetzee after his return from Japan for a repeat of last year’s final. Coetzee played the first seven games of the URC campaign before taking up a short-term contract in Japan with Kobe Steelers.
Because he went to Japan, Coetzee was “deregistered” as a Bulls player and is therefore ineligible for the rest of the 2023 campaign.
He has been training with the squad in the hope of playing, but instead he will be a very interested spectator just before he runs out for the Bulls Currie Cup team at Loftus soon after the URC match ends.
“I was really looking forward to being in the mix, and it certainly hurts,” Coetzee said. “But having been back in the camp now I can see there is a great spirit in the team, and everyone is right on par with what they want to achieve. I know they are up for it.
“It will be like Test rugby. We played them in the final there last year, and you can believe these two teams are going to give this quarterfinal the respect it deserves.
“I think it’s going to be a great spectacle. Both teams are hungry. It’s going to come down to a set-piece battle. It will be decided by who is the fiercest and who wants it the most. It’s about attitude now. The team that wants it the most and is the most clinical and accurate will win. I think it’s going to be a massive onslaught.
“The occasion can play a massive role. It’s in Cape Town, it’s Steven Kitshoff’s last game, so it’s going to be a massive emotional high for them.
“My advice to the Bulls players would be to just focus on what you’ve prepped for. Do what you do best. Respect the occasion but enjoy it as well. You’ve worked hard to get here, now just execute what you want to deliver on the day.
“If you make this any bigger than it really is, that’s when you strain your energy levels. Trust the process and don’t think of the outcome too much. Execute, be fearless and be ruthless.”
Fourie back for Stormers
“Fearless” and “ruthless” are words returning Stormers flank Deon Fourie apparently lives by. Maybe they’re even tattooed on his body somewhere because he has been the star of their campaign.
After a few weeks out through injury, he’s back for the play-offs and it’s a huge boost for the home team. The Stormers need to slow quick ball getting to the Bulls’ superb outside backs, especially wings Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse. Fourie is the perfect man to do that job.
“It’s great to have him (Deon) back,” captain Steven Kitshoff, who is possibly playing his last home game for the Stormers, said.
“He has a warrior mentality and the intensity and focus he brings to the game is vital. When it comes to breakdowns, slowing ball down, stopping momentum, getting us momentum, he’s crucial in tight games like this.
“Deon doesn’t stop working. He brings a lot of calmness and detail, and just a bit of leadership, and he’s hungry to play. I think he’s going to put up his hand tomorrow.”
Kitshoff also played down the emotion of it being potentially his last home game. If the Stormers win they will face the winner of the Ulster versus Connacht quarterfinal. If Connacht upsets Ulster and the Stormers win, the semifinal will be back in Cape Town. If Ulster win, it’s an away semi.
“For me, it’s still all about prepping as well as I can for the game and not bringing emotion into my decision-making or, especially when it comes to prep,” Kitshoff said.
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“I think it will be emotional after the game. I think that’s where the emotion will kick in. But for me, it was just all about getting through the first phase, getting as mentally sharp and ready as I can for this weekend.
“The emotion will come a bit later. I had a nice farewell after the Benetton game (the last group game). It was very nice, but it was back to business and we got to Monday training.
“So, for me, it’s just getting through this game, having a good game, playing well, keeping everyone proud, and then we’ll take care from there.”
Sharks embrace the challenge
The Sharks, without Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Jaden Hendrikse and Curwin Bosch, somehow have to find a way to become the first team to beat Leinster at home in Dublin in a year to advance.
They don’t appear to have much of a hope on paper against the side that cruised into the European Champions Cup final last week.
James Venter replaces Kolisi for the match while Boeta Chamberlain moves from fullback to flyhalf to accommodate the loss of Bosch, with Aphelele Fassi starting at fullback.
In other changes, after a string of impressive performances in the Currie Cup recently, lock Corne Rahl returns to the side, having made his URC debut earlier in the season against Connacht.
With Leinster having clinched top spot and enjoying home-ground advantage, they come into this game as favourites, which is not something that really bothers lock Gerbrandt Grobler.
“No one gives us a chance, and that’s okay, we have a job to do and we believe in it, because if you don’t believe it, you can’t achieve it,” Grobler explained from the team’s base in Dublin. “We have nothing to lose, and we’ll be throwing everything into it.
“What do you do, no one gives you a chance, your back is against the wall, we’ll be going for it, why not believe? Anything can happen on the day: the bounce of the ball, a decision that goes your way… we’re going out there to give our best and enjoy ourselves.” DM