The muck we are seeing dished up by the Stormers this season is just unacceptable. How can a side with the tradition that comes in the form of Western Province, and the so called professionalism that comes with the Stormers have sunk so low?
And while I only got to play about 8 or 9 games for the WP senior side in the early nineties, I write this not only as the editor of the second biggest sport website in the country, but also as a very angry ex-player who could not wait to get that blue and white hooped jersey on every Saturday.
My senior team aspirations were cut short by a neck injury when I was 24, but I played for the U19 side at Craven Week, spent 2 seasons playing every U21 game that was scheduled, spent some great years playing for the WP “B” side, did lots of duty on the senior side bench with chief bench-man Freddie Ferreira, and even got a few caps for the now very non-PC WP League side with the likes of Chester Williams and Tinus Linee.
My blood was blue and white as they like to say in the Danie Craven stand these days, and the two biggest thrills of my life were seeing my name in the side published in the Cape Times on a Tuesday morning having survived a Hennie Bekker and Dawie Snyman “Koppestamp” session in Stellenbosch the previous evening, and running out onto a packed Newlands filled with anticipation. It was just awesome, and something I trained for every single day of my life.
So my questions are minimal and simple. Do the players really want to be there? Is the coach doing as much as he possibly can? Are the players and coach getting the necessary backing from the union?
To my mind, the answer to the above three questions, sadly, is an unequivocal “No”!
If Ricky Januarie and Sireli Naqelevuki stood shirtless next to the likes of Rory Kockett and Joe Rokocoko, would they be proud? In a ship clearly taking on water, can Rassie say that he has tried every combination available to him? For example - Why does he continue with these two fellows, who as the Ozzie commentators so rightly pointed out, “Clearly need a little time at Weigh-Less”? Why continue with the same loose trio week in and week out? Why, after seeing the drama that unfolded in the pre-season game against Saracens when Wicus Blaauw came on to replace an injured Brian Mujati on the tighthead, is Blaauw, quite obviously only a loosehead, still the reserve prop? In a province where the lack of depth clearly lies in the tight five, why did the union spend money on the likes of AJ Venter, Willem de Waal and Wylie Human?
And what is the coach’s obsession with keeping the media away from the squad? Does he have something to hide? It just smacks of paranoia. And now being part of the so called 4th estate, and thus having been in both camps, I can say with the greatest certainty, that the Erasmus approach is the wrong one. And I use the surname on purpose, given that it is side-kick, Frikkie Erasmus’ job to keep us “snoops” at bay. Fifteen minutes into practice, the players having hardly raised a sweat, it’s Erasmus number 2’s job to make sure we are all in our cars heading away from Belville. All no doubt aggrieved and thus more inclined to use the poison induced ink in our pens, rather than the patience induced stuff that might have been there had the camp been remotely accommodating …
So many questions … with not enough answers. This at a time that the side is playing the most turgid rugby ever seen. The ELV’s have not helped anyone, and neither did the diabolical weather in Canberra. But as they say in the cliché classics – it was the same for both sides. The Stormers might have the best defensive record in the tournament, but the supporters are not paying top dollar to watch people tackle! Tries, Rassie, is what we are after. And it’s no wonder the crowd attendances and TV viewership is down. I would rather mow the lawn and sandpaper my window frames than watch this muck!
OK, so I hate those “Moaning Minnie’s” who are happy to moan, but not offer a solution. The season is gone, Rassie is rumoured to be packing his bags at the end of it, so the time has come to experiment a little, surely?
My “To do” list for the Stormers:
- Find a tighthead to back up Brian Mujati. Anywhere! I do not care what it costs, and I do not care if the guy is so unfit that he has to walk from scrum to scrum. You simply cannot play a game of rugby without a tighthead. Make a frigging plan!
- Start with Tiaan Liebenberg, allow the pack to wear down the opposition a little, and then bring on Schalk Brits and his dancing shoes. The Stormers pack needs more “Mongrel”
- Send AJ Venter back to where he came from. Now! Admit the mistake, kiss the money good bye, and make a call to invest in the future and not the pensions of aging ex rugby players.
- Take a gamble and play Hilton Lobberts at lock. A walking yellow card as a loose forward in Pretoria, you made the call to bring him down to the Cape and retread him as a lock. Do it! It will certainly add to the “Mongrel” of the side, and cannot be worse than Venter.
- Drop Schalk Burger! Yes, you heard me. He is having the worst season imaginable, so why carry on playing him? In fact, this bloody obsession with playing your fetcher as a number 8 can come to an end right now as well. You have a top class number 8 in Duane Vermeulen, and you have potentially the best fetcher in the country, Luke Watson, playing some of the best rugby of his career. Vermeulen at 8, Watson to the ball at 6, and one of the Louw’s as a rangy number 7, like Juan Smith does for the Cheetahs. Another, and more risky option, would be to call up the super talented Kyle Brown from the SA sevens side and play him at 7.
- Play anyone but Januarie at scrumhalf at the moment. The man takes a step before passing – at Super14 level!!! And this Dewaldt Duvenage fellow does not look half bad in any case.
- Settle with Peter Grant, Jean de Villers and Gcobani Bobo. None of them speed merchants, but all very good rugby players that will make good decisions.
- Send Januarie and Naqelevuki to the trim track without pay. Surely there must be fitness requirements that come with being a professional rugby player? Suspend their pay until they meet these requirements. When fit, both could be assets to this squad
Bottom line is that as one of the “Big three” given that the Lions and Cheetahs can no longer be considered anything resembling remotely “Big”, and as a franchise with access to such a splendid amount of rugby talent, the Stormers are letting both themselves and the country down. If this does not serve as a wake up call, then the snooze button may as well be permanently engaged …
Tank Lanning is the editor of Sport24, an ex WP tighthead prop, and authour of the Front Row Grunt blog
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