Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Stormers are in the grips of
a slump ... three losses in succession, with one point to boast from a possible
15, tells you that in pretty clear language.
This period has been damaging enough to
suggest that, after an optimistic start featuring four wins from as many games,
they are likely now to be vying more for a basic playoffs berth - with its
associated disadvantages - in Super Rugby 2015 than a realistic crack at a
Their 25-20 Good Friday reverse to the
runaway Hurricanes in Wellington leaves them very much marooned in mid-table in
both their own conference and the overall log, and among a host of scrappers
starting to simply aspire to sneak into top-six qualification come the finish
of ordinary season.
In that context, the next fortnight in
Australia, having left New Zealand winless, assumes heightened importance as
they weigh up remaining overseas tour matches against the Waratahs in Sydney
(next) and then the Force in Perth en route back home.
It has become near-essential that they bank
at least one win from this pair of fixtures to stabilise a little, and perhaps
at the same time to clear some of the tactical fog that appears to surround
them right now.
When you have lost three on the trot, you
ought to be desperate enough to want to arrest the trend in the very next
match, although at this stage beating the West Australians in a fortnight looks
a likelier bet than downing the defending champion ‘Tahs next Saturday (11:40
Yet we also saw enough, in a stirring
second-half bounce-back at the Cake Tin where they registered 17 points without
reply, to suggest that Duane Vermeulen’s charges - though the skipper himself
heads home for further Springbok-interest rest - will retain sufficient
self-belief to still fiercely target victories in both.
Certainly they will have an altogether
rosier chance of knocking over the Waratahs at Allianz Stadium if they can bury
a frustrating, developing trend for looking good in one half of a game and
rather at sea in the other.
That occurred at Newlands a few weeks ago - when their losing sequence began - as they produced some killer, up-tempo
rugby in the first period to build a tidy lead against the Chiefs, only to be
run off their feet later as the Waikato side produced a dazzling resurgence to
On Friday the Stormers did things in
reverse: they paid a hefty price for a lack of cohesion, poor ball management
at rucks and costly first-time tackle misses in the opening 40 minutes to go
down the tunnel an ominous 25-3 in arrears.
Admittedly the cruelly deceptive score-line
was influenced in no small measure by the tourists falling victim to some
officiating from Rohan Hoffmann that could have been straight out of Wacky
Races at times.
But then they took the game by the scruff
of the neck in an immeasurably more clinical and fluid second half, not only
denying the Hurricanes a fourth try but also earning themselves the consolation
of a first bonus point of the season for getting within seven on the final
In short, they suddenly went toe to toe -
and then some - with the current best team in the competition and it does seem
to indicate what they are capable of with the correct attitude and approach.
More of their players, perhaps, need to
take a cue from the irrepressible Schalk Burger, who goes and goes and goes
while on the park; if games lasted 160 minutes you suspect the veteran loose
forward would still be putting in monster hits or surges in the 159th.
In a broadly dominant pack performance, it
was a pity that other gnarly, key characters like Duane Vermeulen and Eben
Etzebeth only seemed to warm properly to the occasion after halftime, when
their Springbok pedigrees came rather more pleasingly to light.
It still seems as though the Stormers are
teetering confusingly between whether to stick to the no-frills, conservative
sort of game-plan that has often seen them eke out tight wins in the past, or
to answer the desire in many circles for them to restore “Province rugby”
attacking principles more profoundly.
They also continue to be hamstrung by a
lack of consistent authority at Nos 9 and 10 - there is a special quandary at
flyhalf, where Demetri Catrakilis and Kurt Coleman offer very different
strengths and weaknesses.
The time may have come, in Sydney, to
entrust Coleman with a start, in the hope that his greater willingness to take
the ball closer to the advantage line gives them more sustained oomph, although
an alternative school of thought would be that Catrakilis is more able to
dispense a dictatorial kicking game that supplements forward dominance.
Another two losses in Australia shortly
would make it a second successive winless overseas leg for a team with a prior reputation
for travelling quite well - they also lost all four fixtures abroad in 2014 and
it left them with too much to do to crack the playoffs upon return.
If the Stormers do stay stuck on four wins
from nine matches as they head back to Cape Town, it would probably mean the constant-pressure
requirement of winning at least five of their remaining seven matches in South
Africa to make the finals series cut because they do not have a reputation for
amassing useful four-try bonus points easily.
They can make the task that bit more
realistic if they snaffle a precious win - or two! - in Australia, and we have
seen enough genuine quality in flashes to suggest it can be achieved.
Here are all the remaining ordinary-season
Stormers assignments: Waratahs (a), Force (a), Bulls (h), Cheetahs (a),
Brumbies (h), bye, Rebels (h), Cheetahs (h), Lions (h), Sharks (a).
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing