Vodacom Super Rugby
Stormers not good enough?
Cape Town – When you’re on the receiving end of a hiding like the one the Stormers got from the Crusaders in Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final at Newlands, it’s inevitable that emotion may blind you to the facts.
The emotional reaction will be to dismiss the Stormers as chokers, especially when it is taken into account that this is the fourth consecutive tournament in which they have been strong contenders but ultimately did not deliver a trophy.
In 2009 Western Province lost the Currie Cup semi-final against the Blue Bulls after Sireli Naqelevuki’s high tackle on Jaco Pretorius gave Morné Steyn the chance to clinch the game with a late penalty.
Last year the Bulls beat the Stormers in the Super 14 semi-final in Soweto and WP went down to the Sharks in the Currie Cup final in Durban.
This year the Stormers won the trophy as South African conference winners, but the defeat to the Crusaders means that they still have the monkey on their backs of not having won a major tournament since the Currie Cup in 2001.
However, one should be careful when it comes to reacting on emotion. For example, a small number of supporters of New Zealand rugby in Cape Town have somehow managed to create the perception that the Stormers cannot bank on local support.
The fact of the matter is that as far as crowd figures are concerned, the Stormers are better supported than any other side in the Southern Hemisphere.
There is no doubt that the Crusaders handled the big occasion a great deal better than the Stormers. However, the question should perhaps simply be asked whether the Stormers are good enough.
Such was the Crusaders’ dominance in the scrums that the Stormers were not even sure of winning the ball on their own feed. One can only hope that the psychological damage inflicted on Wicus Blaauw and a regular solid performer like Brok Harris is not permanent.
Apart from scrumming power, an important component of most good sides is that their loosehead is a dynamic ball-carrier – examples are Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Charlie Faumuina (Blues) and Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders).
Those kind of props don’t grow on trees and without one on the market the best option is developing your own. It will be interesting to see how young props such as Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe develop in the Currie Cup.
The Stormers contracted CJ van der Linde before the season started, but his form has been poor and he has struggled with injuries. He did not prove a good investment.
A significant difference was also the Crusaders’ tactical mastery – especially that of All Black flyhalf Dan Carter. His goalkicking may not be as accurate as that of Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant, but his temperament came to the fore in a big game.
The Crusaders exerted the kind of control that was characteristic of a team that regularly plays big games. Success is in their DNA and they are motivated to do well for their people back home in the wake of the earthquake tragedy in Christchurch earlier this year.
The Stormers are still working on making success an inherent part of their culture. Their lack of experience in key positions proved fatal on the weekend.
Nick Koster is showing a lot of promise, but his pass that was intercepted by Sean Maitland for a try in the 15th minute handed the Crusaders the initiative. When Robbie Fruean scored his try after an off-load by Sonny Bill Williams, it was effectively a matter of game, set and match before half-time.
The decision-making of the Stormers’ leaders also has to be questioned. For the second time this year against the Crusaders the Stormers did not take their opportunities to kick at goal and rather went for touch.
It is extremely naïve to think that one will simply maul a team with eight All Blacks in their pack into submission so early in a game. These kind of games require patience – something Cape rugby supporters will need to have now.
While the Stormers set the standard in South Africa this year, they were handed a brutal lesson of the standard they need to aspire to if they want to rule the Southern Hemisphere.
“Beaten by a better team” is always a bitter pill to swallow and in this case it was by a much better team.