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    Stormers slipping toward obscurity … again

    2019-04-05 14:23

    Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – The Stormers are leaving themselves with an ominous amount of strike-back work to do in the second half of the Super Rugby season if they are to crack the nod for the knockout phase.

    Friday’s latest setback in Brisbane, where they succumbed 24-12 to the similarly no-great-shakes Reds, means they have netted a solitary log point from a possible 15 on their Australasian trek so far, and remain winless from their three fixtures.

    With just the closing game to follow next Friday against the currently high-riding Rebels in Melbourne, there is a real danger of a repeat of last season’s main overseas tour record, when they suffered a 0-3 sweep at the hands of, respectively, the Waratahs, Crusaders and Highlanders on a shorter travel roster.

    They also came up short in an all-New Zealand, three-game tour in 2017, although that was also the last season in which they have reached the finals series, before quickly exiting through a home quarter-final reverse to the Chiefs.

    So the last three seasons have truly dashed their once-proud reputation as happy, often successful travellers abroad, even if Melbourne represents a last, drought-breaking opportunity on this particular venture.

    Unless they can upset the Dave Wessels-coached Rebels, they will come back to home shores, at the halfway turn of ordinary season (eight matches), with a dangerously low tally of points on the table – it is currently only 14 and may stay that way for at least another match with their tiring, injury-depleted squad.

    Pushing that haul into the high teens before they get on the long-haul flight would be important if they still hold significant hopes of making the eight-team knockout-phase cut.

    Consider the following: the Rebels, who ended an agonising ninth overall in last season’s competition, couldn’t get through the gate then, even with 36 log points.

    So if the Stormers crash again in Melbourne and remain marooned on 14 -- or perhaps sneak the tally to 15, by at least running their next hosts close -- at their midway roster mark, they would require very pronounced improvement in fortunes in the second portion of the campaign (possibly some 22 further points or thereabouts) to reach the finals series.

    That would still be borderline feasible, given that their overseas travel from the last 50 percent of their itinerary would be curtailed to a once-off visit to Buenos Aires on May 4 to tackle the Jaguares, and with plenty of their all-SA matches at home base of Newlands itself.

    But given their present, crippling propensity for errors as they try to amass any sense of continuity in their play – not to mention an ongoing battle to score tries regularly -- Robbie Fleck’s charges look like dead certs for victory in desperately few of their remaining matches.

    Once the Rebels are out of the way on Friday, they return for home matches against the Brumbies, Bulls, Crusaders, Highlanders, Sunwolves and Sharks, and away ones against the Jaguares and Lions.

    They did at least cross the whitewash twice in Brisbane (through Kobus van Dyk and a livelier this week Springbok centre Damian de Allende) but their defence was also fractured three times – including on a costly two occasions while captain Siya Kolisi experienced a spell in the sin bin.

    Fleck and his co-coaches might well have torn their hair out, too, when scrumhalf Tate McDermott wriggled over for the Reds’ third, arguably game-killing try in the 67th minute after taking a quick tap and catching several Stormers players astonishingly asleep on their feet.

    Perhaps even more demoralizingly, there was a carbon copy from substitute SP Marais of his late blunder off the kicking tee against the Blues, as he botched a straightforward conversion near the finish that would have taken the Stormers into the terrain -- at the time, anyway -- of a losing bonus point.

    The bean counters at embattled Newlands will be praying that the pockmarked troops can somehow concoct a win recipe against the Rebels, to provide some semblance of Capetonian optimism for the solid run of home matches and a bit of much-needed interest at the booking office.

    But don’t hold your breath on that one?

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing ...

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    Friday, 26 April 2019
    • Crusaders v Lions, AMI Stadium 09:35
    • Sunwolves v Highlanders, Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium 12:00
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    • Hurricanes v Chiefs, Westpac Stadium 09:35
    • Waratahs v Sharks, TBC 11:45
    • Stormers v Bulls, Cape Town 15:05
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