Stormers need to rethink flyhalf
Johannesburg - The return of Duane Vermeulen as No 8 and captain will provide a significant boost for a Stormers team that too quickly drifted away from their planned structured approach against the Highlanders, but a change may be necessary at flyhalf if they are to challenge the Hurricanes on Good Friday.
According to the supersport.com website, the Stormers went down 39-21 to the Highlanders in what can be described as an abjectly disappointing start to their tour. But for the first 20 minutes at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin they looked well on track to maintain their long winning sequence against the south island franchise that dates back to 2007, with the Stormers, playing off a strong first phase platform, sticking to a tight structured game that minimized turn-over opportunities for their dangerous opponents.
However, once they had gone into a 7-0 lead through a converted Juan de Jongh try, it all went pear shaped for the Stormers, with Dillyn Leyds dropping a ball at the restart following the try and from there the Highlanders engineered a try that was the turning point in the game. When the Stormers became loose it played into the Highlanders’ hands.
Perhaps the return of Duane Vermeulen will change that, for the regular captain, who was rested for the opening tour match as per the agreement with Saru about the management of Springboks, is strict about sticking to structures and he is also a player who adds to the team’s ability to physically suffocate opponents.
But the Stormers may need more than that, for it was apparent even in those opening minutes that they lacked something from structured attack and were just way too predictable. Even when they did score their opening try off a long multi-phased build-up they nearly butchered it. It was a fortunate bounce off an opposing player’s hands that was responsible for De Jongh being able to break through and score after the move appeared to have broken down.
Much of the Stormers’ problem appeared to revolve around their backs lining up too deep on attack, something that may be sourced in Demetri Catrakilis being less inclined to take the ball at the line than Kurt Coleman is. The latter came on in the second half and the Stormers looked a lot more potent on attack when he was there.
Coleman was the man in the pivot position when the Stormers enjoyed a sequence of wins towards the end of the last Super Rugby season, and perhaps coach Allister Coetzee needs a memory jolt. Although Catrakilis is a fine kicker of the ball, he is not as good a rugby player as Coleman is, and apart from not asking questions of opponents, he is also not nearly as slick or accurate a distributor.
Catrakilis has done well in two Western Province Currie Cup title chases since 2012, but has arguably never been as influential a level up, at Super Rugby. Coleman was considered a liability at one stage because he appeared to have a suspect temperament and his kicking, both for posts and out of hand, lacked consistency.
However, in 2015 we have seen the benefits of the work put in by mental coach Henning Gericke and kicking coach Vlok Cillier coming through in the Coleman performances, with the back-up flyhalf slotting a crucial pressure penalty against the Bulls at Loftus in the opening game and also an important conversion from the touchline against the Lions a few weeks later.
Coleman’s kicking stats are good, and while he obviously didn’t kick well enough out of hand to satisfy Coetzee in his one start against the Chiefs, for he was replaced at the start of the second half, perhaps the coach was too quick in making the change. Certainly the Stormers’ opening half hour in that game was their best 30 minutes of rugby produced this season so far, and it was Coleman who was wearing the No 10. It was only after the change was made that the Stormers faded away.
Whatever Coetzee decides in his flyhalf deliberation, he is going to go hard at the players this week on the need to be disciplined and stick to the plan, for he left little doubt in his teleconference call with the Cape media after the Dunedin game that the players had let him down.
“We wanted to play direct, to play one-pass rugby, which is what you need to do against the Highlanders, but the players saw space and there were numbers so they drifted from the plan,” said Coetzee.
“They will have to learn from this. The fact of the matter is that the Highlanders are a team that will punish you if you are going to make mistakes.”
Coetzee also faces an interesting selection dilemma in the back row this week. Nizaam Carr was excellent last season and won Springbok recognition as a result, but it is hard to see once Vermeulen has returned how he can be accommodated in the same back row as Schalk Burger. The latter made his first start of the season in his 100th match and was brilliant, but he and Carr are too similar in playing style to be accommodated in the same loose trio.