Worst Stormers tour since ‘98?

    2014-03-26 14:40

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – The Stormers have a plethora of problems right now ... an underperforming and often unexciting team, another nightmarish injury plague, under-fire coaches, inevitable supporters’ dissatisfaction.

    Just another, and perhaps one that has slipped beneath the radar given deeper issues, is that they face the real danger of experiencing their least profitable overseas tour in Super Rugby since their formation in 1998: it will become a sad reality if they lose their final game of the four-match roster abroad against the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday (10:40 SA time) to complete a clean sweep of defeats.

    That ’98 campaign was also the year when the new Stormers brand-name at Newlands was marked by that infamous, dog’s breakfast of a kit, containing an array of confusing and ill-designed colours.

    The franchise had played one prior year of the infant Super 12, in 1996, as Western Province – even then they scrambled one draw in their Australasian tour, amidst three losses – and then didn’t qualify for 1997 under the old domestic guidelines.

    When the Stormers and the short-lived “spaghetti” shirts came into being a year later, they were beaten each time abroad, including a dreadful 74-28 caning from the Blues in Auckland.

    But by 1999, with Alan Solomons as coach and Bob Skinstad the young, charismatic captain – coupled with the fact that the sexier “Men in Black” jersey livery had come into play – a dramatic upturn took place as they ended second overall and marched to a home semi-final where a golden run came to an end against the Highlanders.

    It was Solomons who very deliberately and determinedly introduced the principle of the overseas tour being “an adventure rather than an ordeal” and for several years after that the Stormers carried a reputation as South Africa’s most comfortable travellers in Super Rugby, even if many of their overall campaigns ended up being moderate at best.

    The hallmark has pretty much remained intact to this day: never again since 1998 have the Stormers surrendered all four (or sometimes five) games abroad.

    There have been times when they’ve seriously flirted with a zero return, like in 2005 when they scraped a draw in the opener against the Highlanders and then lost the next three matches, and 2009 when four defeats were followed by a gutsy 18-11 win in the last clash, coincidentally also against the men from Dunedin.

    But an “all defeats” tour hasn’t occurred in some 16 years, so that is the ignominious landmark the class of 2014 will revisit if they are toppled -- with their makeshift and necessarily much-altered starting line-up – by the Reds.

    The Stormers have a miserly tally of one log point from a possible 15 to boast from the tour so far, courtesy of a losing bonus point in the tight 14-13 loss to the Crusaders first up; they haven’t even managed that much in subsequent dates with the Chiefs (20-36) and Brumbies (15-25).

    Often the last match for South African teams in Australasia is the one when they are at their most vulnerable at the best of times, understandably, and it is very likely that at least some degree of travel fatigue and demoralisation will have infected Jean de Villiers’s battered troops by now.

    Hardly helping is that opponents the Reds felt victimised by referees on their own winless two-game leg in South Africa very recently, so will want to take out their disgruntlement on a bunch of men from those very shores, you would think.

    If there is one tiny omen in the Stormers’ favour, it is that they won in Brisbane last time they visited in 2012: it was by 23-13 and with Peter Grant – so unusually off the mark with his place-kicking in Canberra last weekend – registering 18 points including a try and a flawless five from five record off the tee.

    Amidst the relative ashes, may lie some lingering seeds of hope ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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