How to accommodate Sacha’s talent is Dobson's biggest quandary

rugby26 February 2024 08:55| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu © Gallo Images

The ligament injury to Ali Vermaak that has left the DHL Stormers suddenly looking a little thin at loosehead will be outweighed by a positive dilemma as the Cape side intensifies preparations for Saturday’s north/south showdown in Pretoria - what to do with Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu.

The Stormers have welcomed back a phalanx of top players from injuries in recent weeks and there is a strong possibility that Springbok strongman Frans Malherbe will be involved in Saturday’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship derby against the Vodacom Bulls. Coach John Dobson said after last week’s win over the Hollywoodbets Sharks that Malherbe, who has been back in training for a few weeks, would be available for the Bulls game.

Of course Neethling Fouche has been in such outstanding form for the Stormers this season that many might wonder if Malherbe is even needed. But of course he is, when the Bulls came back at the Stormers in the first round game in Cape Town it was when their reserve front row was on and they were able to reverse the trend that had been set in favour of the Stormers in the scrums.


Having either Fouche or Malherbe coming on as a replacement will provide the Stormers with massive assurance, the challenge for them will be to find strong back-up for Sti Sithole on the other side of the scrum in the absence of Vermaak. The Stormers don’t lack good looseheads on their books, it’s just that some of them, such as former Bulls prop Lizo Gqoboko, are currently injured.

Outside of loosehead prop though the Stormers face the tricky dilemma of deciding who to leave out rather than include - Deon Fourie has to return to a Stormers back row that was excellent against the Sharks; Salmaan Moerat eased his way back into rugby off the bench in Durban and must be in line for a start, which means the impressive Adre Smith might drop to the bench; and Dobson did mention after Durban that he must find a place for Wandesile Simelane.

The former Lions outside centre who struggled to settle at the Bulls before moving to the Cape as per a swop agreement involving Cornel Smit has impressed Dobson during training since linking up with his new team and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him wear the No 13 at Loftus. Not that there’s anything wrong with young Suleiman Hartzenberg, who is himself a prodigious talent.


Prodigious talent is the expression to use when starting a conversation about Dobson’s biggest dilemma. He has two Springbok playmakers coming back into his setup this week in the form of Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse. With Warrick Gelant at his best against the Sharks, you’d imagine the No 12 jersey is the one Willemse should wear in Pretoria, but then what do you do with Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who is the very definition of the term ‘prodigious talent’.

His wizardry at inside centre played a big role in ensuring the Stormers got the scoreboard moving despite the excellent early defensive efforts of the Sharks and the 22-year-old has played well enough when he hasn’t been injured to justify selection to the starting team.

The young star is of course also a flyhalf, a position he has expressed a preference for, and was due to start at pivot against the Sharks but that plan was scuttled by the injury that forced Dan du Plessis to miss the Hollywoodbets Kings Park game. Dobson said it was a minor injury and Du Plessis would be back in the selection mix for the Loftus clash so that is another reason for Dobson to be scratching his head.

Du Plessis could conceivably be used at outside centres, and it might make sense from a defensive viewpoint. But that doesn’t resolve the quandary of how to fit Willemse and Feinberg-Mngomezulu into the same team.

Former Stormers coach Robbie Fleck, Dobson’s predecessor, did once say he thought Willemse would make a great outside centre. And he certainly does have the attributes for the position. But is a Loftus derby the time to try something new? And what do you then do with Simelane’s ambitions? And Hartzenberg’s? In most of those instances, there is utility value, which is one of the Stormers’ strengths.


It’s a great position for Dobson to be in and whatever he comes up with is going to be greeted with interest. Other players aside from Moerat, Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Malherbe who were absent because of injury that are back in the mix after missing the first round game between the teams include looseforward Evan Roos, wing Ben Loader and fullback Warrick Gelant.

The last mentioned was a cause for concern before his brief injury break due to a perception his preparedness to gamble was overdone and he was too flashy, but he was the best player on the field in the recent Durban derby as he stood up magnificently to the Sharks in the aerial battle and was also strong on attack. While Willemse played No 15 in the last north/south game, Gelant surely has to play this time.

In the 23 December game at the DHL Stadium the inside centre position was filled by Jean-Luc du Plessis due to injuries. Normally a flyhalf, Du Plessis played well in the first half but was then injured and hasn’t played for the Stormers since then.

One significant loss to the Stormers since that Bulls game is the defensive organisation brought by Ruhan Nel, who sustained a ligament injury in the Sharks game the following week that has ruled him out for the season. The challenge for the Stormers is to either use (Dan) du Plessis in that role or for Norman Laker to produce his own magic by getting Simelane or Hartzenberg up to speed in covering the Nel role. Again though, there’s just that thought - Willemse at 13 and Feinberg-Mngomezulu at 12… Surely not? No, probably not.

The Stormers team will be announced on the eve of the Pretoria clash.