Stormers’ tour turns gory
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Ouch ... serious confirmation in the space of six days that the Stormers remain very much a work in progress; a still-wobbly, infant Bambi.
Some would say that is a charitable way of looking at things, too, considering the poverty of the Capetonians’ returns over the course of their last three matches in Super Rugby including twin, bruising reverses in New Zealand thus far.
Robbie Fleck’s charges, several of whom are unpalatably sampling the majesty of that world-leading country’s rugby on own terrain for the first time, followed up a trek-opening 57-24 defeat to the Crusaders with an even more one-sided 57-14 outcome against a revved-up Highlanders outfit in Dunedin on Friday.
It is presently raining tries against them, with their defensive alignment and resolve in first-time situations a special area of angst ... and speaking of rain, you might even say a monsoon potentially lies ahead as their final Kiwi fixture is against the particularly free-spirited Hurricanes.
Between the ‘Saders (eight) and Highlanders (nine), the Stormers have surrendered 17 tries on tour already, and it clearly needs to be a massive area for soul-searching both on the whiteboard and training paddock in the next few days.
With such generosity to the opposition in dot-down terms, they have ballooned to joint second-worst side in the entire competition for concession of them (37, alongside compatriots the Kings).
The only more culpable outfit are the humble Sunwolves, with 47 tries against.
The Newlands-based side have also not registered a single log point in three matches (they were also beaten 29-16 at home by the Lions), staying stubbornly marooned on 26 points - once from six matches, but now from nine.
It is giving the Bulls, albeit hardly a convincing force themselves in 2017, just a sniff of likelihood that they may yet haul in their great southern rivals in Africa Conference 1, where they trail by 12 points but with a game in hand - the Loftus team are on a bye weekend.
The Stormers are historically worthy of the title of “good tourists” abroad, although they are now in major danger of emulating their 2014 duck on their main overseas sojourn, as the Hurricanes will be installed as heavy favourites in Wellington on Friday.
On that 2014 Australasian visit, the Stormers were beaten by all of the Crusaders, Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds, although they ran the ‘Saders (14-13) and Reds (22-17) extremely close, earning a losing bonus point each time.
Should they be thrashed at Westpac Stadium anew, we may be looking at their worst ever overseas leg in the competition.
It should also be deeply concerning to all who monitor and cherish South African rugby that the current second-best performing side from our shores were slaughtered by a Highlanders team still running fourth of the five NZ franchises as things stand.
Memories of the Stormers’ sparkling, fight-fire-with-fire home performance against the Chiefs (a heartening 34-26 win still only earlier this month, believe it or not) will fast be fading among their supporters, as the increasingly injury-thinned tourists were once again run ragged by a NZ combo sporting sound footballing skills and lethal attacking and counter-attacking ability right across the park.
A few days out from their closing tour date against the ‘Canes, it is impossible not to suspect that their best chance of staving off another drubbing may well be to temporarily resort to a conservative game, making a concerted effort to fix their defensive shortcomings and hoping that more of their pack can emulate the steely defiance even in tough times of someone like vice-captain Eben Etzebeth ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing