Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Newlands
may still be the South African venue with the best potential for bumper Super
Rugby gates … but history shows that the proviso is a consistently winning
Stormers team, who have instead begun 2019 rather horribly on the back foot.
The old, endangered
stadium was still packing them in, sometimes with attendances of 40,000 and
more, even toward the end of Allister Coetzee’s tenure as head coach between
2010 and 2015.
have had his critics during the period, as his charges often played an ultra-conservative,
heavily defence-orientated game, but the bean counters wouldn’t have minded
that much: people still pitched up to watch them because they were pretty
regular local conference masters -- and overall title challengers -- and
Coetzee eventually stepped down with a record of having won almost 66 percent
of his games in charge.
variety of negative subsequent developments in the camp, not least a major WP
Rugby financial meltdown and associated boardroom tension and factionalism, have
seen crowd levels fall away significantly in the last year or two, at exactly a
time when an opposite hallmark would be so welcome.
at Newlands will be wincing already about 2019 prospects in that regard,
considering one of the Stormers’ most bilious starts to a campaign in recent
memory as they succumbed 40-3 - looking sterile, disorganised and frankly
featureless - to old enemies the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.
top of their forgettable 2018, when they ended 11th of the 15
competing teams, it was a result that runs the serious risk of introducing a swift,
fatal scepticism among their supporters for this year’s prospects.
Afrikaans, they might say a significant chunk of the once-formidable support
base are quite possibly “gatvol” already.
Nor does the
immediate horizon look any brighter: the Stormers may already have dissuaded
several thousand souls from forking out for what should have been (at least
ahead of lopsided events at Loftus) a tantalising first home match this
Saturday against other Highveld-based outfit the Lions, tournament runners-up
for each of the last three seasons and a side generally known to play
A few years
ago, and in this balmy period of the year weather-wise in Cape Town, you might
have expected the “house full” signs to be raised for a Newlands opener: they
may be lucky to get even close this time, although hope springs eternal to a
still-solid tally of their more diehard followers.
But if the
Stormers happen to be noticeably schooled all over again by Warren Whiteley’s
men, too, the possibility does flicker dangerously that their entire season
unravels with unexpected, breakneck speed.
Yes, it is
possible to go on to excel in a Super Rugby campaign from a nought-from-two
start … and even recover sufficiently to win the title.
what happened as recently as 2016, when the Hurricanes suffered an even worse
first-round defeat than the Stormers did the other day: they were slaughtered
52-10 by the Brumbies in Canberra, and then a week later were also pipped 17-16
by the Highlanders in Dunedin.
stabilised in quite dramatic fashion, winning 14 of a further 16 matches,
including all three knockout tussles on the path to their first ever hoisting
of the trophy.
for the Stormers is that they have few obvious easy-beats on the short-term
radar, if they do remain winless after two rounds.
another taxing derby away to the Sharks, just another game where they may
seriously rue still being without arguably their two most prized forwards,
Steven Kitshoff (he definitely won’t make the Kings Park date) and second-row
meanie Eben Etzebeth (supposedly available again “soon”).
follows, which may well come as a chance for valuable reflection … but then it
is only a fortnight from there to their main overseas leg, embracing clashes
with all of the Hurricanes, Blues, Reds and Rebels.
Stormers to have a chance of generating any much-needed sense of rugby fever in
the Western Cape when they finally return to a more solid run of home games,
they really cannot afford to enter that phase sporting significantly more
losses than wins.
the dangerous “political” and economic background at Newlands, a string of
early defeats would greatly aggravate the potential for the wheels coming off
in every sense.
Which is why
a dramatic turnaround against the Lions this Saturday (17:15 kick-off) somehow
seems so massively necessary. *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing