Following the departure of Demetri Catrakilis to France last year, Stormers interim coach Robbie Fleck will have to choose a new first-choice flyhalf for the opener against the Bulls at Newlands on February 27.
And while Fleck said this week that “I’m not going to say who the front-runner is” for the flyhalf spot, he spoke glowingly about Du Preez’s run as the No 1 pivot for Western Province in last year’s Currie Cup, despite a nightmare performance in the October final against the Golden Lions, who won the decider 32-24 at Ellis Park.
Kurt Coleman had usurped Catrakilis as the Stormers’ No 1 flyhalf halfway through the 2014 season, but was again overlooked in favour of the “Greek God” at the Stormers and Du Preez for WP last year. Coleman still seems to be paying the price for the poor kicking performance against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in May, where he missed four second-half shots at goal in a 25-17 defeat.
That would be a bit unfair on the 25-year-old Coleman, as his experience, all-round skill and cool head under pressure is just what the Stormers need among the inside backs in the initial stages in particular, as Springbok centre Damian de Allende will be sidelined through an ankle injury.
Coleman has the ability to guide the back division as he possesses good variety in his attacking game - he has a lovely long pass and can mix things up with little chips and grubbers off the boot, while also engaging the defence with ball-in-hand - while his tactical kicking game is under-rated. Despite the Bloemfontein blip, he is also a more accurate goal-kicker than Du Preez and a more consistent all-round player.
The 22-year-old is undoubtedly a talent, whose height and physical strength could prove a handful for opposition defences. But he has seldom shown the consistency in his game that is required at Super Rugby level. He followed up a strong performance in the Currie Cup semi-final against the Blue Bulls with a blow-out in the final a week later, and would be better utilised off the bench to gain experience.
Fleck, though, was adamant that this week that he was not scared of giving young players a chance. This could see his WP Under-21 flyhalf, Jean-Luc du Plessis - the son of the “Prince of Wings” Carel - also leapfrog Coleman in the Stormers set-up.
“I’m not going to say who the front-runner is, but I am going to say that the three flyhalves we have in the system will do the job for us. Robert du Preez had a good Currie Cup last year - an outstanding semi-final against the Bulls, and then he had a… it was a tough game for everyone against the Lions in the final,” Fleck said.
“But still, a young kid who stepped up and delivered. I coached Jean-Luc du Plessis at the Under-21s - a seriously talented player who is going to push through the ranks. I’ve certainly got no fear about choosing young players. They’ve played for me in the Under-21 set-up, and I’ve got no issue about selecting players who did well there for Super Rugby.
“And then we’ve got Kurt, who had a tough season last year. But we all do know that Kurt has got certain qualities that can ignite a certain game that we want to play. So, all three players are certainly pushing for that position, and then we’ve got another kid in Brandon Thomson, who played with me at the Under-21s.
“I know that the flyhalf has always been a contentious issue in Western Province and Stormers (rugby), but these are the kids that we’ve got, and we are certainly going to back them.”
The flyhalf will play a critical role as the Stormers try to embrace Fleck’s vision of playing rugby “without fear”, where a more attacking mindset will be encouraged, whether on attack or defence.
“I know you guys are sick and tired of hearing ‘balance’ from myself or Allister, or any coach in the galaxy, but the reality is that the best sides in the world are strong in every aspect of the game. We’ve got to have a real, simple, pragmatic view on the way we want to play,” Fleck said.
“We’ve got to up-skill these players as best we can, and we want to play a high-tempo, high-intensity game. And I will say it again - it’s got to be without fear. We will play a more risqué game, but it will be calculated. It certainly won’t be… we are not suddenly going to tap the ball from our own tryline and have a go. But when the situation presents itself, we are going to have a crack.”
Original source: Du Preez to be Stormers No 10?