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    Little mercy for fallen Stormers

    2013-03-03 12:03
    Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)
    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 competition.

    “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 it counts.

    “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 shoot up.

    “It was always going to be a tough start: we knew that from the outset, playing two South African franchises away, Bulls and Sharks.”

    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 front-row men.”

    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 times.

    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 row.

    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.

     *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing  

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