Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - If the Stormers are to finally
land that elusive maiden Super Rugby title in 2013, it looks increasingly
likely that they will have to do so the hard way.
They could not achieve it as SA conference
winners in 2011 and 2012, even after securing the attached right to successive
home semi-finals, and already some pundits are sure to be suspecting that this
year even supremacy in their group is becoming a tough ask - they may have to
qualify for the knockout phase via the trickier wildcard route.
While it is very true that the Stormers also
continue to be stalked by an injury bogey that has sidelined several core
personnel, the cold fact remains that on Saturday they failed, before a home
crowd of some 47 000, to cash in on a best opportunity in some time to finally
put one over the wily Crusaders.
VIDEO: Stormers v Crusaders, highlights
Considering that the New Zealanders entered
the fixture off a long-haul trek, and were missing a handful of their most
integral names, the host team crashing 19-14 was an ominous event, one which
will have cynics questioning afresh the Stormers’ title pedigree.
Do they really have the go-forward oomph in
their tight five, and is their general battle-plan multi-pronged and dynamic
enough to take them all the way to the August 3 silverware?
These remain issues swirling uncertainly in
the Cape coastal breeze.
Their management and players are proud and
spirited folk, and it is way too early to jump to the conclusion that the
Stormers will fail to go all the way once more: for the record, I still fancy
that they are playoffs material, with recent victories over the high-quality
Brumbies and last year’s champions the Chiefs confirming that.
But the Sharks arguably do have the inside
lane, as things now stand, to claim the local conference.
With a tenuous two wins from their first
five starts, the Stormers simply must beat the in-form Cheetahs - aiming for an
unprecedented five wins on the trot when they entertain the Capetonians in next
Saturday’s headline SA game (17:05 kickoff) - as ammunition to take into the
second derby meeting of the season with the Sharks at Newlands a week later.
The last-named game really amounts to one
of those potential “eight-point swing” affairs: if the Sharks repeat their 12-6
success at Kings Park in early March, they will really be in the driving seat.
A sobering thought for the Stormers is that
they won the conference in 2012 with just two defeats, and a year earlier did
so despite four.
Three losses down already and with 11
ordinary-season matches yet to play, how many more reverses can they afford, especially
with the ever-taxing overseas tour still to come?
Perhaps their best hope is that the South
African conference somehow becomes a group of death, with nobody emphatically
Coach Allister Coetzee and captain Jean de
Villiers are usually fairly upbeat characters, but they were visibly
crestfallen and economical with words at Saturday’s post-match media
“Very disappointing result ... mistakes
again cost us tonight,” was Coetzee’s initial appraisal.
“Clearly this team stands for physicality,
which we brought, and the attitude was unbelievable. Even with 14 men on the
field (Duane Vermeulen’s yellow card for a tip tackle, which may yet have
further repercussions - Sport24) we defended like Trojans.
“But you can’t play this game if you can’t
win your set-piece, and especially your lineout; that’s where we battled.
That’s why we couldn’t put them under pressure with ball in hand.”
It is not Coetzee’s way to single out
individuals for criticism, but at the same time if the coaching staff are going
to deny Deon Fourie has an ongoing, chronic problem with his throwing in to the
lineout, then they are probably also non-believers in death and taxation.
They are in a difficult position because
the nuggety Fourie is otherwise such a bubbly and committed character in open
play - debate will surely re-open around his better suitability, perhaps, to a
place among the loose forwards.
Tiaan Liebenberg, their best thrower and
also scrummaging hooker, has another inconvenient injury at present, and they
still await Currie Cup 2012 hero Scarra Ntubeni’s first full contact training
shortly, after a long layoff of his own.
“It’s not just a throwing in issue,”
Coetzee insisted. “There are a number of (reasons) we must look at and
“The Crusaders also had some skew lineouts;
there will always be a couple. But we lost six, and I know that’s not good
enough at this level. Our lineout was non-existent.
“The Cheetahs also have a good lineout, so
that’s an aspect we have to get right this week.”
De Villiers, who had another plucky
individual game at inside centre, denied that his troops have some sort of
mental block against the Crusaders, to whom they have now lost four times on
the trot, including three at Newlands.
“I don’t think it’s the opposition that’s
the problem. It was the execution of the team, the mindset of the individual
and just the way we played. It really felt as if we made so much progress in
the last two games, and we’ve let it slip again this time.
“I’m pretty disappointed tonight. We took a
couple of steps back.”
Coetzee, hardly altering his glum
disposition, revealed that the team had a further spate of injuries to
“At this stage we have a few (players) who
possibly won’t be there next week ... Steven Kitshoff will be the only player
returning, and I am concerned about Gerhard (van den Heever) who got a bump to
his knee, and also Pat (Cilliers) who hurt his hand and forearm.”
Remaining Stormers fixtures:
April 6: Cheetahs (a); April 13: Sharks
(h); April 26: Hurricanes (a); May 3: Blues (a); May 11: Waratahs (a); May 17:
Rebels (a); May 25: Reds (h); June 1: Kings (h); June 29: Cheetahs (h); July 6:
Kings (a); July 13: Bulls (h).
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