CAPTAIN Gerrit-Jan van Velze’s place in Worcester Warriors’ starting XV is under threat with Cornell du Preez making a strong case for the number eight shirt.

Van Velze has been a regular figure in Warriors’ pack since signing from Northampton Saints in 2014, captaining the club in four out of the past five seasons.

All 18 of his appearances last term were starts and the 31-year-old was re-appointed skipper ahead of the 2019-20 campaign after landing a new two-year contract.

However van Velze faces stiff competition from du Preez who has impressed director of rugby Alan Solomons in the Premiership Cup.

Van Velze started against Leicester Tigers but du Preez got the nod at number eight for the clashes with Bath and Exeter Chiefs.

Solomons also revealed after the 34-19 defeat to Chiefs that van Velze was fit to play but chose to give du Preez another chance to impress.

Du Preez produced an impeccable defensive display against Exeter last Friday as he made 30 tackles and did not miss one.

“He put his hand up tonight,” said Solomons immediately after the match.

“From what I could see he had a very good game.

“I will have to look back at the film but he looked like he was putting himself about and some of the tackles he made were quite hefty.

“There’s competition.

“We have Marco (Mama), Ted (Hill), GJ, Sammy Lewis and Cornell – those are five really experienced and good loose forwards.

“That’s fantastic and a position you want to be in.”

Asked why van Velze was not selected, Solomons said: “He wasn’t unfit. We made a decision (on selection).

“By the end of this four-game period pretty much everybody would have had a decent amount of game-time.

“I think that’s health going into this block (of Premiership games).”

Du Preez missed a large chunk of the 2018-19 season due to a throat injury sustained last September before returning almost seven months later.

“Cornell is a good player,” Solomons said.

“I have coached him since he was about 20.

“What he adds is quite a lot of physicality as you have seen.

“He’s tough.”

Du Preez was the top tackler in a resilient showing by Warriors who had two 10-minute spells with 14 men as Andrew Kitchener and then Caleb Montgomery saw yellow.

“I thought that some of the defence was pretty ferocious,” Solomons said.

“Particularly with younger guys some defensive reads are not going to be 100 per cent.

“But the tackling was extraordinary.”

Warriors start their Gallagher Premiership campaign a week on Saturday with a home clash with Leicester Tigers.

“We have some difficult decisions and as the season wears on hopefully that will continue which is a healthy thing,” Solomons said.

“We have not had this level of competition within the squad, certainly not in the time that I have been here.”

Solomons will now look to pick his side for Saturday’s Premiership Cup match against Wasps at The Ricoh Arena (3pm).

But he looks set to be without prop Ryan Bower and hooker Isaac Miller who suffered blows to the head against Exeter.

“We have had an opportunity to see most of the players and we will select accordingly (for Wasps),” Solomons added.

“Ryan and Isaac went off for HIAs (head injury assessments) and will have to go through the (return to play) protocol.”