Frans boosts Stormers front-row options ahead of Loftus

rugby27 February 2024 14:38| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Frans Malherbe © Gallo Images

DHL Stormers forwards coach Rito Hlungwani has confirmed that Springbok tighthead prop Frans Malherbe will be part of the match-day squad for Saturday’s high-octane Vodacom Super Rugby derby against the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus.

Malherbe hasn’t been on the playing field for a game since he was part of the Bok team that eked out a one point win over the All Blacks in the World Cup final in Paris on 28 October last year.

He has spent the past few months recovering from a troublesome lower back complaint.

However, he has been back in training for several weeks now and Hlungwani says he is ready to go and looking forward to getting stuck into the Loftus derby.

So too are the other three Stormers World Cup-winning Boks - Manie Libbok, Damian Willemse and Deon Fourie - but it is Malherbe’s presence that could make a dramatic impact in that he further boosts an area of the Stormers game, the scrums, that has already been working well for them despite the loss of former captain Steven Kitshoff to Ulster.

Neethling Fouche has been outstanding in his absence and is surely now himself knocking on the door to Springbok selection after being called up to next week's national alignment camp. It will be interesting to see which player starts.

These days rugby is about having 23 players that contribute instead of just 15, and dropping to the bench shouldn’t be seen as a demotion for Fouche, should it happen.

Instead it should be seen as an acknowledgement that it might be better to start with the player who, because of his inactivity, is less likely to be able to see out a full game should an injury to the other tighthead make it necessary.

That consideration might just make Malherbe the favourite to wear a single digit on his back in this game.


For Hlungwani, the big thing about Malherbe’s return is the way it has pushed the already high competitive levels between the Stormers’ pool of front-rankers.

"Everyone is available this week and I think the level of competition that has been brought by the Springboks returning has been particularly pleasing. It is really nice to have Frans back as he is a really experienced player ranked as one of the best tightheads in the world,” said Hlungwani.

“His return has improved our environment and it will push Neethling even more. They will both play a role at Loftus regardless of which one starts and which one finishes the game. We also have Sazi Sandi and Lee-Marvin Mazibuko back in training so it is looking good with our prop situation. Having Frans back is a big boost as it lifts those players to train even better.”

Unfortunately for the Stormers none of the reinforcements are looseheads, which is what the Stormers may appear short of due to Ali Vermaak sustaining a ligament injury in the last match against the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Durban.

Although he is back in training and will be ready to play within the next few weeks, former Bulls prop Lizo Gqoboko is not available for the north/south derby.

However there is an obvious solution to the shortage of looseheads that makes the timing of Malherbe’s return to the fray particularly fortuitous for the Stormers - Brok Harris.

The veteran has helped out mostly at tighthead in recent times but has done well for the Stormers on the left hand side of the scrum when needed and with Malherbe back to boost the tighthead side, backing up the excellent Sti Sithole is likely to be his role on Saturday.

If the presence of two top tightheads in the selection mix suggests that head coach John Dobson has a difficult decision to make over who starts and who plays off the bench, it is not the only area in the forwards that is the case.

As Hlungwani reminded us, Salmaan Moerat’s return to the playing field off the bench in Durban was a huge step forward for the Stormers too.

“Making a choice between Salmaan and Adre Smith is really tough as Adre and Ruben van Heerden have been doing really well as a combination. But we know the standard and level of play that Salmaan brings to the table.

“The second row is a similar situation to the one we have with our tightheads - having Salmaan back has raised the temperature (of competition for places)a bit and it is a very good problem for us to have.”