Springbok Bryan Habana will almost certainly be back in his customary No 11 jersey when the DHL Stormers tackle the Hurricanes in a Vodacom Super Rugby match in Palmerston North on Saturday.
Habana has been back in full training for two weeks after a layoff caused by a knee ligament injury. Although there was some speculation that the player might be out for longer, he has actually returned to training quicker than anticipated and has comprehensively made nonsense of speculation that he might have played his last game for the Stormers.
Set to take up a contract with French club Toulon at the end of the Super Rugby season, Habana is eager to make a full fist of his last season with the Cape team, who he joined from the Bulls in 2010. And he has returned in enough time to make an impact, and the Stormers needing him to do so as they list in the lower part of the log with one match to play before the halfway point of the season is reached.
Stormers backline coach Robbie Fleck made no secret of the fact that Habana will be starting against the Hurrianes when he spoke in a Stormers media feed early on Tuesday following a two training session day in Auckland.
Fleck said that Habana was looking fit and strong and lauded the 2007 IRB World Player of the Year for his professional attitude that rubs off on his teammates.
“Bryan leads from the front on the training paddock and on the match field. It’s fantastic to have him back in the mix – he’s looking fit and strong,” said Fleck.
“We’d have no qualms about starting with Bryan after his layoff. He’s a Springbok and he is one of the few players you could do that with. He’s done it before and we have done it with him before.”
Habana will be the only certain change to the team that beat the Sharks 22-15 in Cape Town before the bye week. Rynhardt Elstadt, Scarra Ntubeni and Elton Jantjies are all expected to be in the selection mix, with Jantjies being given an 80% chance of playing, but none of them can be regarded as certain starters after the good form displayed by their replacements against the Sharks.
Of course Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has made a habit of rotating his scrumhalves this season and without seeing them train it’s impossible to say which one will be playing this week.
Damian de Allende will move back to the bench to make a place for Habana, and the team for the Hurricanes game, to be announced 8:30am SA time on Wednesday, should not look too different to the following:
DHL STROMERS: Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (capt), Bryan Habana, Gary van Aswegen, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Michael Rhodes, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Frans Malherbe, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: Scarra Ntubeni, Pat Cilliers, Rynhardt Elstadt (covering flank and lock), Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Elton Jantjies, Damian de Allende.
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