Johannesburg - They’ve lost five games in six and already there has been a change to the management structure that is seen as an admission of failure, but that does not mean that the Stormers have given up hope of winning this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby title.
According to the supersport.com website, the Stormers host the Waratahs at Newlands on Saturday, and as coach Allister Coetzee, who now has Gert Smal working above him as director of rugby at Western Province, reminded a press conference in Cape Town, it is only the second home game of the season.
And this is a year where home ground advantage has become all important, with 35 of the 42 matches played in the competition so far being won by the home side.
“We have played just one game at home this year and we won it. Yes, we only won by one point late in the game, but it was still a win,” said Coetzee.
“It is still early in the competition, and while we know we haven’t played well and our results have been extremely disappointing, we still see it as wide open. The teams that are doing well haven’t toured yet and have played most of their games at home. We are now starting a sequence of seven matches at home, with three elsewhere in South Africa. We’ve been overseas. That is done and dusted.”
Coetzee said that his team had played only one derby match, and it would be the derby games that would decide the South African conference. His men have a lot of ground to make up on the Sharks, but the Stormers still get to play them twice, starting with the Kings Park clash at the end of May, when the Sharks would just have returned from their overseas tour.
“We play a couple of overseas teams at Newlands plus four derby matches, then we have three derby matches away. There are 10 matches to go. That is a lot of rugby still to be played and we definitely have a chance to get back into the running provided we start winning soon. The home games are important and we have a good record at Newlands. We are determined to keep the stadium as our fortress.”
The fighting talk from Coetzee of course has to be balanced up against the injury list, which for the second successive season has been shocking. Whereas in previous years it was the loose-forwards (2012) and flyhalves (2011) that saw the Stormers down to the bare bones when it came to calling up replacements, this time it has been the locks.
Jurie van Vuuren, who acquitted himself well in his first start last week against the Reds in Brisbane is just an under-21 player. He isn’t even a lock, with Ruan Botha and Jean Kleyn the two players who locked the scrum for John Dobson’s winning WP junior side last year. Van Vuuren is mainly a blindside flank who can play lock if required, and he would never have dreamed he would be playing his first game for the Stormers in that position.
“There is a silver lining to it in that the young guys who have come in are getting invaluable experience. Jurie did well considering the factors last week, and then we have guys like Oli Kebble who are gaining in experience each week,” said the coach.
But the inexperience quotient should drop from when the Stormers come back from their bye on the Easter Weekend, when they host the Lions. Jean de Villiers is missing the Waratahs fixture so that he can maximize his rest opportunity for a slight injury (he would have rested for three weeks by the time he returns to action), Schalk Burger will be back, and so should be Scarra Ntubeni, Manuel Carizza, Rynhardt Elstadt and others. Eben Etzebeth’s return is set for May.
“We will have guys coming back into the system after the bye and in a way that is good timing,” said Coetzee.
There will be nine matches left then, so it is vital that the Stormers get back onto the winning trail against the Waratahs, a team they lost to last year but who they generally have an excellent record against, particularly at Newlands.
“Given that there is some really good talent coming back after the break, this game is really important for us, and yes, there is big pressure on us to get the result,” said Coetzee.
“There is always pressure but the pressure we are under now is pressure we put on ourselves. We didn’t get the results we should have in some of the games on tour. It was a tough tour, but there was no lack of effort, and it is important now just for us to translate that effort into results. We are still positive about the season, which is far from over.”
Stand-in captain Duane Vermeulen promised that his men would be “leaving nothing out there” in their quest for victory. The Sharks put in a big effort against the Waratahs last week knowing there was a bye coming, but Vermeulen said that wasn’t the focus.
“We will be playing our hearts out and leaving nothing out there, but we won’t be thinking about the bye. We just want to go out there and do the job. It was a disappointing tour for us and we need to set a few things right,” said the No 8.
“So far it has been a really good week for us in the buildup. It has been great being back home sleeping in our own beds and being home after four weeks away has brought renewed energy. We are not looking beyond this game, we are just focusing on the job at hand.”
15. Jaco Taute, 14. Kobus van Wyk, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10. Peter Grant, 9. Louis Schreuder, 8. Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7. Siya Kolisi, 6. Nizaam Carr, 5. Michael Rhodes, 4. Ruan Botha, 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16. Stephan Coetzee, 17. Oliver Kebble, 18. Brok Harris, 19. Tazz Fuzani, 20. Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21. Nic Groom, 22. Demetri Catrakilis, 23. Michael van der Spuy
15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Jono Lance, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson