Centre Juan de Jongh will captain the DHL Stormers in their 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby tour-opener against the Highlanders at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 19h35 NZ time; 08h35 SA time).
De Jongh takes over the leadership reins from No.8 Duane Vermeulen, who is being rested as per the franchise agreement with SA Rugby, whilst Schalk Burger comes in for his first start of 2015 and will take over the vice-captaincy.
Aside from backing up De Jongh in the leadership department, Burger will also be making his 100th appearance in a DHL Stormers jersey – having made his debut against the Waratahs in Cape Town on March 13, 2004.
The 31-year-old Springbok star joins Andries Bekker (2013) and Jean de Villiers and Peter Grant (both 2014) in reaching this impressive landmark for the Men from the Cape and DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee paid tribute to the team’s “ultimate warrior”.
“I don’t think people realise exactly what Schalk went through in 2012 and 2013, first with his knee injury and then his illness,” Coetzee told iamastormer.com.
“He is the ultimate warrior and just to get back into the game after his setbacks, never mind what he has achieved since then, speaks volumes about the man’s character as does his recent nomination for the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award.
“Schalk, of course, is a true Western Province man. He is popular in this team, with a lot of players looking up to him, and he means a lot to us all. The opposition are also hugely respectful of Schalk – both on and off the field – which also shows just what an impression he has made on the game during his career.”
In other changes to the team – from the line-up that did duty against the Chiefs two weeks ago – Nic Groom and Demetri Catrakilis will link up once again at halfback, whilst the loose trio has been reshuffled in the absence of Vermeulen with Nizaam Carr packing down at No.8, Burger lining up at No.7 and Siya Kolisi shifting across to No.6.
On the bench, meanwhile, hooker Bongi Mbonambi (for Neil Rautenbach), prop Oli Kebble (for Ali Vermaak), lock Eben Etzebeth (for Ruan Botha) and flanker Mike Rhodes (for Burger) all come on to the bench with Louis Schreuder and Kurt Coleman swapping places with Groom and Catrakilis, respectively.
Coetzee explained the thinking behind Etzebeth’s return via the bench, adding: “We think it’s better to ease Eben back, but, also, a guy like Jean Kleyn has done very well this season and he deserves to start.
“We will make changes (during the game) as and when we see the need (as the starting players tire or show fatigue), but, either way, we’re lucky to be able to call upon the likes of Eben, Bongi Mbonambi, Oli Kebble, Frans Malherbe and Mike Rhodes as forward replacements.”
The DHL Stormers team to face the Highlanders (away) is as follows:
15. Cheslin Kolbe
14. Kobus van Wyk
13. Juan de Jongh (captain)
12. Damian de Allende
11. Dillyn Leyds
10. Demetri Catrakilis
9. Nic Groom
8. Nizaam Carr
7. Schalk Burger (100th cap for DHL Stormers – vice-captain)
6. Siya Kolisi
5. Manuel Carizza
4. Jean Kleyn
3. Vincent Koch
2. Scarra Ntubeni
1. Steven Kitshoff
16. Bongi Mbonambi
17. Oli Kebble
18. Frans Malherbe
19. Eben Etzebeth
20. Michael Rhodes
21. Louis Schreuder
22. Kurt Coleman
23. Huw Jones
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Wratt (New Zealand)