Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The impotence of their backline play is currently a
glaring impediment to the Stormers being deemed knockout-phase material
in this year’s Super Rugby.
Heard that one before?
of course, also a hallmark of generous periods of Allister Coetzee’s
tenure as head coach between 2010 and 2015, the only difference being
that they were often SA conference masters, had a famously adhesive
defence and won roughly two-thirds of all matches he presided over for
But the pattern is re-emerging to a worrying extent in 2019 … or at least as far as being try-shy in concerned.
sixth on the overall table with three wins from five starts (so at the
races for finals-series status), the Stormers were, however, probably
deprived of a courageous triumph over the Hurricanes in Wellington on
Saturday because their backs failed by a considerable distance to match
the front-foot capabilities achieved by their keen, grunt-laden pack.
were eventually beaten 34-28 although they did bank a losing bonus
point – scant reward for the yeoman industry of men like Pieter-Steph du
Toit, Bongi Mbonambi and company.
Competition statistics after
round six show that the Stormers are the only team in the entire
competition with a single-figure “tries for” count at this stage: nine.
worst are compatriots the Bulls (11), while the ease with which certain
other teams are crossing the whitewash is reflected in the Crusaders
and Lions sharing the honours at the top with 25 each, albeit both from
an extra match over the Capetonians.
In another blast from the
fairly recent past, if you like, the Stormers are at least lying joint
second-best with the Waratahs when it comes to fewest tries conceded:
The Sharks are presently doing easily the most sterling shut-out job of all teams, with only eight concessions.
it seems pretty clear that the Newlands-based side, whose next tour
date is against the Blues in Auckland this Saturday (08:35 SA time) will
have to try to engineer better thrust from their back division if they
are to be treated seriously enough as potential title aspirants this
It is just as sobering a stat that only two of their nine
tries have been scored by outside backs – one by centre Dan du Plessis
against the Jaguares at Newlands, and an early intercept by Damian
Willemse when he was starting fullback against the Sharks in Durban.
have gone to scrumhalves (two to Herschel Jantjies, one to reserve
Justin Phillips) and the other four all rumbled over the line by pack
members: like a couple of other SA sides, the Stormers have a noticeable
trump card in their rolling maul off the attacking lineout.
fact that they had to make a near-hellish number of tackles was a
reflection, though, of their inability or lack of confidence to keep
ball in hand: there was far too much wasted kicking from them and the
wings again caught the proverbial colds as far as attacking
opportunities were concerned.
Robbie Fleck’s charges continue to
be bedevilled by the lack of a street-wise game manager at scrumhalf
where, for all his raw talent and personal nippiness, Jantjies
understandably still has plenty to learn strategically – veteran Jano
Vermaak being so often on the crocked list hardly aids their cause in
But flyhalf looks too fluid, as well, despite a run of
several matches on the trot for fit-again Jean-Luc du Plessis; he has
worn the No 10 jersey since the second match, following the disastrous
opening-game 40-3 defeat to the Bulls at Loftus where Willemse – the
starting pivot that day -- appeared to have been made a prime scapegoat.
Du Plessis, though, has come off some two years of painstaking
injury rehab, is also not helped at all by the recently-confirmed
serious illness to his legendary father Carel, and has generally looked
well off the sort of levels he was capable of before his string of
If they are to show a greater sense of backline X-factor
against the Blues, it might not be the worst idea to reinstate the
hot-stepping, mercurial – but also suitably direct at times -- Willemse
Yes, the versatile 20-year-old made some gaffes of
his own against the Hurricanes after coming on as a substitute, but a
show of confidence in him in one spot (and ideally his beloved No 10?)
for a few matches might be just the tonic for the Stormers to show more
penetration behind the boiler room.
Another Plan B option for the
berth, if it is decided to pull out Du Plessis this weekend, would be
Josh Stander, who is on tour in the broader party and played some crisp
matches at ten during last season’s Currie Cup for Western Province.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing