Stormers are in a good space
Johannesburg - The Stormers returned from their Vodacom Super Rugby tour of New Zealand and Australia in a much better space than looked likely before they re-crossed the Tasman Sea for the last leg of the trip.
According to the supersport.com website, the Stormers lost both games to Kiwi teams, which followed on from a home defeat to the Chiefs before departure, so by the time they got to Australia for the matches against the Waratahs and the Western Force, they had effectively lost three in a row. They had just the bonus point picked up for losing by less than seven to the Hurricanes to show for their efforts.
However, an unexpected bonus point win over the Waratahs was followed by a positive result in their final match against the Force. There were doubtless some who were enthused enough by the try scoring exploits against the Waratahs to expect something similar in Perth, but in truth that was never going to happen as the Force just play a different kind of game to the Waratahs.
While the Waratahs played into the Stormers’ hands with their ball in hand approach, the Force, as expected, followed a strategy that was designed to avoid engagement with the Stormers’ defensive system. When they did keep ball in hand was in the second half when they were chasing the game.
The Stormers would not have started the game with a four try bonus point in mind, as everything said during the build-up week revolved around the need to be patient and grind it out, and in the end that was what happened. What would have mattered for the Stormers was that they banked the four points for the win, which made it 10 from the tour, representing their most successful overseas excursion since 2012, when they topped the overall log.
It means they have a chance of recapturing pole position in the South African conference if they beat the Vodacom Bulls at Newlands this coming weekend and with mostly home matches to come after that, they are the team that looks to be in the pound seats at present.
But that could change if they lose to the Bulls, so coach Allister Coetzee will be pleased to be welcoming regular captain Duane Vermeulen back this week after his extended rest, and he will also be satisfied that but for a knee injury to right wing Kobus van Wyk, there weren’t any major injury concerns in the final match of the tour.
The Stormers play the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and then the Brumbies at home before they take their next bye in mid-May, so Coetzee may have to box clever in the way he manages his players over this three week period as the team did look a bit flat against the Force. The Stormers know that winning the three games that they play before the bye will make them hard to beat in the conference tussle as the Bulls and Sharks still have to tour.
Coetzee knows that his men are going to have to lift their performance considerably if they are to overcome a determined Bulls team that will be smarting from their unexpected first round defeat to the Cape team at Loftus in February.
“I was pleased with the win over the Force but not with the performance. It was far from our best,” he agreed.
“But more importantly, we did win, and that meant we kept building on the good win against the Waratahs. Now we can view the tour as satisfactory. I’m really pleased with the character in the team and the will to win, because it was a bit of a dog fight. For us its mission accomplished. We have turned it around on tour. We were on a three match losing streak and now we are winning again.”
As has been the case for a long time now, the Stormers’ attempts at structured attack were poor against the Force, who effectively limited the Stormers opportunities to score through their staple route, which is to pounce on opposition errors and counter-attack from turn-over ball. What makes the Stormers’ poor attacking game particularly confounding is the dominance they have enjoyed this season in the set phases.
“I think the fundamentals of the game let us down against the Force, such as losing the ball at crucial stages on attack,” said the coach.
“I think we created so many try scoring opportunities off a wonderful scrumming performance, but we failed to make it count. The players knew exactly where we went wrong because we weren’t playing towards the ball and weren’t clinical at the breakdowns. So those are things that are going to have to be improved on if we want to beat the Bulls. But I’m positive that winning makes preparing for next week a lot easier.”