Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Instructively, perhaps, it hasn’t yet earned them Super Rugby’s grand prize, but the Stormers continue to be trend-setters under the now three-year-old conference system for economy in try-concession.
Allister Coetzee’s charges finished seventh in ordinary season for 2013, one agonising place shy of playoffs qualification – the first time they have failed to make the cut since the advent of the new format in 2011.
But once again they could be branded “Scrooge” not only for premier excellence in the defensive department, during the gruelling phase ahead of the finals series, but also their struggle to cross the whitewash themselves.
This year’s Stormers side equalled their own SANZAR record, first set in 2011, for fewest tries conceded (18) across 16 conference matches – very little more than one a game.
It was a whole five tries better than the next best team in that regard, fifth-placed Australians the Reds (23 against).
The statistic also means that the Newlands-based franchise have gone three years of conference activity as the tightest defensive outfit of the lot – they only gave away 21 tries last year, nine better than eventual champions the Chiefs (30) in second spot for fewest tries conceded.
But of consternation to many of their loyal supporters, the flip side is that the Stormers stubbornly keep a reputation for being well less than entertainers in a 'tries for' capacity.
They crossed the line 30 times in their 16 matches – an average of just under two tries a game – which meant they were superior only to minnows the Kings (27 tries) and Force (26).
It was reminded in TV commentary that the last-named side, despite a commendable 21-15 upset of the Brumbies in Perth last weekend, have not registered a four-try bonus point in 25 Super Rugby matches.
Some relief for the Stormers, as they reserved one of their most vibrant performances of the year for the 30-13, slightly party-spoiling dismantling of the Bulls on Saturday, was that in dotting down three times they beefed their try count to 30, thus eclipsing their 28 last season.
In that 2012 campaign, the Capetonians peculiarly notched fewer tries than anyone else yet still managed to top the overall table after ordinary season – even the subsequently axed, bottom-placed Lions pressed 30 times.
Here are the tries for-and-against ratios for all the South African sides after the SA conference season this year: Bulls (1st) 41-34, Cheetahs (2nd) 38-32, Stormers (3rd) 30-18, Sharks (4th) 40-31, Kings (5th) 27-69.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing