Stormers potential spoilers?
Johannesburg - The DHL Stormers sent out an ominous warning this past weekend to future opponents about their potential to be competition spoilers for teams with Vodacom Super Rugby title aspirations at the business end of the league phase of the season.
According to the supersport.com website, they are still third last on the log heading into this coming weekend’s Newlands clash with fellow wooden spoon contenders, the Toyota Cheetahs, but are starting to turn their home ground back into a fortress again. And with the Vodacom Bulls and the Cell C Sharks due to visit Cape Town after the break for the June internationals, their improving form could prove to be one or both of those teams’ undoing.
They lost to the Waratahs when they returned from their difficult away tour but otherwise the Stormers have a clean slate in Cape Town. And they have already proven themselves to be good spoilers, as the Highlanders and now the Western Force will attest after both of them had their momentum halted when visiting Newlands.
The Highlanders, let it not be forgotten, had outplayed the Sharks in Durban before they were beaten by the Stormers, and the Western Force visited Newlands in a confident mood after disposing of the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Both teams were outplayed on the field, although the Highlanders did come close on the scoreboard.
And in the wake of the comprehensive 24-8 thumping of the Western Force this past weekend, a score that may even have flattered the visitors, the Stormers should gain further confidence as some of their injured stalwarts get ready to return to the field. Schalk Burger was missing from the Stormers team that beat the Force after being ruled out on the eve of the game, but he will be back in the fray this week.
“It was a close call on Schalk, he was nearly ready to play, so he will definitely be back for the Cheetahs,” said coach Allister Coetzee after the Force game.
Also back will be regular skipper Jean de Villiers as well as fellow Springbok Frans Malherbe. Oli Kebble, who would have started the last two games had he not been ruled out by negative concussion tests, should also be fit to take up position at loosehead in the continued absence of Steven Kitshoff.
“It seems to work like that. One week you have injuries and you can’t find players to fill the positions, but now after this win we have a pleasant headache to deal with as the other guys come back into the system,” said Coetzee.
The quandary he refers to will be at the back, where Damian de Allende showed against the Force that inside centre is by far his best position. However, as De Villiers is the captain and a Springbok, De Allende will probably move back to the wing in place of Cheslin Kolbe, who played well against the Force.
The new-look front row, which for much of the match featured under-21 player Alistair Vermaak, was strong against the Force, and it is not a coincidence that in the two home games the Stormers have done well in over the past few weeks the first phase consistency has been so much better than it was before.
The match sandwiched in between the Highlanders and Force game, the north/south derby against the Bulls in Pretoria, was one where the Stormers would have been expected to lose given their massive injury problems for that game. However, generally the Stormers appear to have hit an upward curve on their graph and with Eben Etzebeth and Tiaan Liebenberg due back in a couple of weeks they will be confident they can finish the season with a flourish.
“I would say that I was very pleased with 60 to 65 minutes of this game,” was how Coetzee summed up the performance against the Force.
“I was very pleased with the way the plan was executed. Everything about the game was good. We exited well, we got the balance spot on. In the final part of the match we were down to 13 men because of yellow cards and that was tough, particularly in the last 10 minutes. But overall I think the team is starting to show pleasing growth.”
Indeed, if the win over the Highlanders was the Stormers’ most entertaining performance in recent memory, the victory over the Force was the most controlled, with the ploy to take the breakdown out of the picture as a means of getting into the game for the Force working to perfection.
The Stormers kept the ball close most of the time and generally showed good game management.