Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Durban - There is a light at the end of the
tunnel for the Stormers ... oh, look, it’s the freight train from Waikato.
Relief is hardly presenting itself in
bag-loads for the Capetonians in their early Super Rugby 2013 campaign, which
has currently netted a miserly one point from a possible 10 and no winning
feeling yet after two matches.
They will be relieved to have limped away
from Saturday night’s bruising dogfight with the Sharks at Kings Park here with
a bonus point for surrendering only by six points on the scoreboard: they did
deserve that much and it is probably also safe to say they have recaptured
their spirit after the shambles and lethargy of Loftus.
VIDEO: Sharks v Stormers, highlights
But even as they chew on an overdue first
Newlands appearance this Saturday, it doesn’t exactly come gift-wrapped for
Jean de Villiers and company: defending champions the Chiefs will be the
opposition, fuelled by a dynamic start to their own programme which has earned
them successive bonus-point victories over the Highlanders and Cheetahs and 10
tries to their credit thus far.
Some cause for comfort by the Stormers is
that the title-holders will enter the fixture off a long-haul journey, but
offsetting that possible advantage is the tremendous physical toll the floodlit
derby here will have taken on the Capetonians, even at this fledgling stage of
“The collisions were huge tonight,” coach
Allister Coetzee said at the after-match media briefing. “If we are able to
match that level of (commitment) and intensity next weekend, I believe we will
be OK, even though the Chiefs are on fire and will give us a real test.
“I’m definitely not happy with the result,
obviously, because we are a side that’s not used to losing. If you want to be a
championship side that’s one thing not to be happy about.
“But the effort and attitude ... a big step
up from last week. Once you have that in your team, you have a lot to work
with. I take heart from this performance, and there is still a long road ahead.
We will be there; you don’t want to come unstuck later in the competition, when
“I’m really not too concerned how many games
we may have lost at this point; to me it’s about getting the machine started
and oiled and making sure processes are followed. Once we get a win under the
belt, especially as we have some new players in our midst, confidence will
“It was always going to be a tough start:
we knew that from the outset, playing two South African franchises away, Bulls
He quickly fronted up on the issue that is
arguably the Stormers’ main stumbling block in these initial stages of their
itinerary: an uncertain, too often retreating scrum.
“We conceded four penalties from that
department tonight ... we were beaten there by a quality (unit) with Springbok
The situation may not be helped by
Coetzee’s revelation that one of his two 21-year-old props, tighthead Frans
Malherbe, who came off in the 52nd minute, may have picked up an injury.
“We’ll properly know where we stand with
any injuries from this game after 12 or 24 hours, and there was a lot of
cramping out there. No major concerns yet, but I think Frans got a hard knock
to the head or neck area, and I hope he will be alright.”
The fact does remain that the two rookies
have made commendable strides, and may well be “monsters” two or three years up
the road; they lacked nothing in desire against the Sharks’ gnarly Boks Jannie
du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira, and the flame-haired Steven Kitshoff,
particularly, was terrific for ball-carrying, cleaning out and tackling at
But it is also brutally true that the
Stormers have now played second fiddle at that set-piece against both their
main SA conference rivals, and will seriously be hoping that their best-known
scrummaging hooker, Tiaan Liebenberg, is ready for at least some game-time
against the Chiefs – he ought to offer some measure of stability to the front
Coetzee felt the Stormers had played the
right game tactically in the greasy conditions which made handling difficult –
“it was never going to be free-flowing rugby” -- even if some lapses by both
teams did appear avoidable.
“That was especially so in the first half
(the sides unusually changed ends scoreless - Sport24), where we got the Sharks
a bit bogged down in their own half and forced them to make tackles.
“I don’t know just how much the conditions
played a role, but the knock-ons, the unforced errors ... that is where you
basically kill yourself, and you have to hold onto the ball.”
Although he didn’t mention it specifically,
Coetzee may well have been thinking, as he said it, about the early incident
where Elton Jantjies, the under-fire new flyhalf who certainly played with
greater conviction and astuteness, produced a brilliant cross-kick into some
space for Gio Aplon, who might have been away beneath the posts had he not
fumbled the glorious opportunity to burst over the advantage line.
Asked by Sport24 whether he might engage in
some introspection, considering the nil-from-two start, and by extension
possibly change the starting personnel mix, the coach said: “I think one has to
keep continuity ... you can only select your best side every weekend.
“There are a couple of players not ready
yet ... we will have to look and see where somebody like Juan de Jongh is, in
terms of the Chiefs game, and also Tiaan. Those players also haven’t had a lot
of game-time yet.”
It ought not to have escaped Coetzee’s
attention that when relatively late substitutes like scrumhalf Louis Schreuder
and loose forward Nizaam Carr entered the fray, the traditionally fairly try-shy
Stormers did seem to crank up a gear in general pace and thrust.
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