Stormers to fizzle out early?
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The Stormers are already on very dangerous ground if they are to stay in the running for an elusive Super Rugby title in 2014.
One win from four starts is their shaky return from the initial stages of ordinary season ... and they are only midway through their particularly daunting four-match overseas leg.
That is the Capetonians’ precarious state after they failed to get anything out of their date against the Chiefs, the defending champions, in Hamilton on Friday: an unlikely come-from-behind win flickered at one stage before the enterprising Waikato outfit ran away with it in the dying stages for a 36-20 outcome and by five tries to two.
It is absolutely essential now that they bank at least one victory and probably also a bonus point or two as they shift onward to the Australian phase against the Brumbies and Reds respectively.
On the bright side, there is a welcome eight-day gap until the Canberra fixture next Saturday, which is a healthier situation than the six-day turnaround from the gut-wrenching Crusaders game to the latest and more clear-cut reverse.
When they move onward to Brisbane, it will also be with the knowledge that the Reds will just have made the gruelling trek back from their own two-match trip to South Africa, so hope springs eternal.
Give the embattled Stormers a bit of credit – they seemed ripe for a genuinely nasty beating when they slipped to 24-6 down shortly after the break at Waikato Stadium, and it was tempting to believe that subconsciously they might already turn their thoughts to some degree to throwing everything instead at the Aussie matches.
But they found some welcome, overdue front-foot rhythm as they were forced to break the shackles from their defensive obsession (it wasn’t working too well anyway as the fluid Chiefs ran at them with real chutzpah) and register two easy-on-the-eye tries to dramatically narrow the gap for a while.
In that period of second-wind dominance, the infusion of substitutes like bristling No 8 Nizaam Carr and seasoned flyhalf Peter Grant made a big difference to their general oomph and their names must surely come into the starting reckoning for any wish to wipe the tour slate clean and finish strongly “across the ditch”.
Grant still looks a bit cobwebbed from his less demanding, latest campaign in Japan, but at least he is more naturally suited to attacking the advantage line and being more physically geared than Demetri Catrakilis to do it.
The fairytale couldn’t last, however, as the Stormers’ desperation turned to fatal mistakes when they attacked from deep with the clock ticking down and the Mooloo Men cashed in to ensure a deserved full house of log points for the New Zealanders.
As the dust settled, the Stormers, who were unable to make skipper Jean de Villiers’s 100th appearance a memorable one, will have chewed on the reality that they are leaving themselves plenty to do to make the cut for the six-team finals series later in the season.
They are in a reasonably similar situation to last season, when they lost their first two matches – local derbies away to the Bulls and Sharks – to immediately go onto the back foot.
Now with one win from four, it is also going to be a white-knuckle ride – if even that? – to make the cut, considering that in 2013 a total of 10 wins was the minimum requirement for teams to get into the last six.
The Stormers ended with nine victories last year, finishing seventh overall to be “best of the rest” for the relatively little it mattered.
Go and do the pretty easy maths: with 12 ordinary-season games remaining, De Villiers’s side will have to prevail in nine of them from here if the 2013 qualification model is to be relevant once more.
There will be even less margin for error during the all-SA run-in for them if they slip up further in Australia.
“I really enjoyed that attacking intent (when they showed it),” said SuperSport critic and former All Black coach John Mitchell. “Now why can’t they do it from the start of games?”
It is something for Allister Coetzee and company to think about ...
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