Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Following the more optimistic-angled first assessment, these are the possible stumbling blocks to the Stormers having a memorable Super Rugby 2019:
Severe ‘political’ and financial instability
This is probably the biggest obstacle to the Stormers making a proper fist of 2019, which had been earmarked for several years as a seminal, “culmination of growth” sort of season for them.
A debilitating range of issues have swirled in the camp since at least late 2016, when the “Aerios saga” - the company at the centre of a multimillion-rand legal claim against WP Rugby over an advertising rights dispute - came to light.
The extent of the financial pickle at Newlands simultaneously came forcefully to the public eye, and there have been periods where payment of the players’ and coaches’ monthly salaries has even been under threat.
Remgro quit as a stakeholder, as did global giant adidas as kit sponsor, and more recently there has been major strife over the situation of Paul Treu, the coaching staff member who claimed “discrimination” from colleagues last year.
An independent probe found nobody culpable, however, although Treu has subsequently been reported to have earned favour from new WPRFU president Zelt Marais as potential successor to Gert Smal as director of rugby or in a not dissimilar capacity - greatly fuelling discontent in the dressing room, it is claimed.
As mentioned in part one on the Stormers, the widespread strife may have the effect of firing up a defiance and determination among the players to “do it for themselves”, despite the lurking issues, in terms of ambition for Super Rugby 2019.
But no guarantees on that score?
Punishing, derby-heavy start
Round four: It’s a time when most teams probably like to feel they’re properly finding their legs after the off-season ... but for the Stormers it should instead come as fairly welcome respite.
That is because their first three games are about as tough as it gets (outside of a taxing Australasian tour, maybe) in bruising, energy-sapping terms.
All of the trio are derbies, beginning in Pretoria next weekend against a Bulls side desperate for a meaningful rebirth, then shifting to a home date with long-time premier SA side the Lions, and back upcountry to Durban for another likely bone-cruncher against the Sharks.
It is basically a three-week “war” and the Capetonians will do very well to come out of it, for a bye, with a clean bill of physical health.
But they will also be mindful of the need to win at least two of those three derbies to establish some traction on the log, given that after a home meeting with the Jaguares once they’ve return to action, they’re off on a four-match overseas tour.
Yes, there is just the possibility they will be close to also-rans (not what the nervy Newlands bean-counters will want) by the time ordinary season reaches midway mark.
Scrumhalf still a sore point
He was no demon as a game-breaker, but Dewaldt Duvenage at least gave solid enough shifts in two separate stints with the Stormers.
But now he has gone again - to Benetton in Italy - and the franchise simultaneously took a hit in terms of availability of experienced scrumhalves for 2019.
The position has not been wonderfully staffed at Newlands for quite some time, a situation hardly helped by the luckless sequence of injuries another streetwise customer, Springbok Jano Vermaak, has had ever since his shift a long way south from Toulouse in 2015.
Now 34, he is also in his twilight, but the Stormers will nevertheless pin their hopes on a longer sequence of activity from him in this Super Rugby campaign. Next most seasoned character at No 9 is Justin Phillips, the former SA Schools player.
Otherwise, they will only have relative rookies at this level to call on, like 22-year-olds Paul de Wet (six caps last season) or Herschel Jantjies, who made a brief debut off the bench in the final Super Rugby game of 2018; he looks nippy and elusive but just how ready is he to be a smart game-manager at this level?
Bok heavies in ‘preservation’ mode
As mentioned in part one of this spotlight on the Stormers, a big strength on paper will be boasting the fulcrum of the present Bok pack.
A Test starting XV picked tomorrow, for example, could include all of Messrs Kitshoff, Malherbe, Etzebeth, Kolisi and Du Toit: five of the eight forwards. In addition, hooker Bongi Mbonambi might well be the back-up to brawny first-choice and Lions idol Malcolm Marx.
But will that really be a favourable state of affairs for the Stormers in 2019?
This is a World Cup year, and a subconscious trend may just take root of certain key Springboks in their midst training their thoughts ever more toward being fit and fresh for the Japan-staged extravaganza.
In addition, you’d think Bok head coach Rassie Erasmus will apply as much quiet pressure as he possibly can on Stormers counterpart Robbie Fleck to deftly “rotate” (or read: not overplay) certain green-and-gold assets like Etzebeth, Kitshoff, Kolisi and Du Toit.
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