New era may start without Jean
The Stormers bigwigs have done the right thing by making it clear that they are not expecting Gert Smal’s arrival as director of rugby to bring immediate salvation, but the Waratahs should nevertheless be warned by historical precedent when they visit Newlands for Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby clash.
According to the supersport.com website, while games cannot be changed overnight, and systems cannot be introduced in a week, just the knowledge that there has been some kind of change can have the impact of changing the team mindset.
It can come about through a feeling of refreshment, or it can be directed by fear of the unknown, the need to show the new boss that they can play a bit and to impress him.
And of course, whichever way you look at it, Smal is the boss from now on. Allister Coetzee remains as coach and will be responsible for directing match day strategy on a weekly basis, but Smal will be overseeing the entire Western Province operation – and most crucially, he has the final say on who gets hired and fired in terms of playing personnel.
There is much historical precedent of a change of coach having an immediate galvanising effect, but the one that springs to mind was when Dick Muir took over from Kevin Putt at the Sharks almost 10 years ago.
The Sharks had been doing woefully, and continued to do poorly after the visit by the Brumbies to Kings Park, but on the occasion of their first game under Muir they played out of their skins and won unexpectedly against the odds.
Muir had only really had time to say hello to the players, for he was appointed only during the course of the build-up week, with Ian McIntosh coming in as an adviser on a temporary basis.
But the impact of the change, what it meant to the players in their first game, was clear for all to see.
There shouldn’t be too much debate about Coetzee’s claim that the Stormers don’t lack for effort.
That has been clear to see too, and at no stage on their losing four match tour of New Zealand and Australia did it ever look like they had thrown their hands up in the sky and surrendered.
On the contrary, in the three matches where they were behind in the second half they fought back quite impressively.
But that does not mean that just a small further lift in intensity might not be possible now that a new era is starting, and the Stormers are back at home for the first time in more than a month.
So given that this could be an occasion for greater clarity and even more emotion, it is interesting to learn that this week could be the one where skipper Jean de Villiers will be given a rest.
There has been a clamour for De Villiers to rest for a while, and rightly so. The Springbok skipper has played almost non-stop rugby over the past few years, and has admitted that he has a sore shoulder that at another time, when the Stormers are less under the hammer, he might have rested.
Coetzee has often spoken about the need to rotate players but has found himself incapable of doing so when the crunch comes and he realises how much the team relies on the key men, and it has probably cost the Stormers in the past if you consider how for two successive home semi-finals the team was denied the services of Duane Vermeulen, among others.
So giving De Villiers a rest this week, if he does do that, is a refreshing change, but the timing might be questioned.
Shouldn’t this be a day that the Stormers go all out to at least win over the Newlands the faithful to the change that has been made upstairs at their headquarters?
Not that De Villiers’ absence will make a huge difference to the strength of the team as it runs onto the field, for Damian de Allende easily slots back into the midfield alongside Juan de Jongh, and Kobus van Wyk deserves another look-in on the wing.
Jaco Taute will replace the injured Gio Aplon at fullback and it looks as though Deon Fourie is set to continue at hooker as Scarra Ntubeni has still not recovered from the injury that forced him home early from tour.
The team for the Waratahs game is to be announced at lunch-time on Wednesday.