The Stormers have always been known as a team loaded with talented, creative players who can beat any other team on their day.
Article courtesy of Ashfak Mohamed on IOL.
They have usually been able to field an outstanding backline, ranging from the era of Justin Swart, Percy Montgomery, Robbie Fleck, Breyton Paulse and Pieter Rossouw to the more recent set, which includes Jean de Villiers, Marius Joubert, Bolla Conradie and Tonderai Chavhanga.
But, over the last four years, the Stormers have battled to impose themselves in the forwards. There have been occasions where I sensed that the Stormers pack feared a team like the Bulls. Despite having arguably a more talented side, the Stormers did not believe that they could beat the Bulls.
The Stormers have always been a real enigma. One week they can beat the Crusaders, the next they lose to the Highlanders or Chiefs. That schizophrenic nature is what has frustrated the Newlands faithful over the years.
But the first sign that the Stormers may have shrugged off their “softies” tag came on Saturday against the Bulls. For the first time in years, the Stormers pack were not cowering. They smashed into the rucks, ran hard at the defence and spoilt the Bulls’ possession in the lineouts.
It was a sterling effort from the big men. Brian Mujati and Tiaan Liebenberg led the assault, with Andries Bekker not far behind. They hunted as a unit, establishing a wonderful platform to play off.
I believe that the turnaround in their attitude can be attributed to new coach Rassie Erasmus. He has drilled his team thoroughly over many weeks in the heat at Durbanville Rugby Club for the past few months. He has brought cohesion to a pack that often played as individuals in the past.
But his argument that the way the breakdown point was officiated was the reason his team lost at the weekend is a weak one. The Stormers had sufficient possession to put the Bulls away, and they surely have realised by now that they let this one slip. The Stormers should have won comfortably.
It is ironic that the Stormers backline is now the point of discussion instead of the forwards. Erasmus did acknowledge that his team didn’t finish off their scoring opportunities. I noticed that there were a number of basic tactical manouveres, the kind once expects to see at schoolboy level, that the backs didn’t even attempt once.
Just as an example, the Stormers did not bring in a wing off the blindside once, whereas the Bulls, who aren’t exactly renowned for their backline play, used Bryan Habana often. The Springbok star came off his wing, was given the ball off the back of scrums and was generally brought into the game by his team.
Fullback Gio Aplon was not given a single opportunity to glide into the backline, a la Andre Joubert or Leon MacDonald, off a scrum or lineout. Aplon did have a few chances to run from the back in broken play, and he broke the Bulls’ defensive line on occasion.
Poor Tonderai Chavhanga was given one decent ball on attack, and made a few metres. But a man as fast as him must be brought into play more. He should not be wasted on attack and be left to defend for the whole match.
Sireli Naqelevuki was a powerful presence when he did get the ball on his wing, but even he was under-utilised during the match. He was the only member of the back three to get the ball a few times from full backline movements.
The Bulls were below par on the day, and the Stormers should have won the match. Now they head to Durban to face the Sharks.
With the tough start that they have – Bulls at home, Sharks away and the irrepressible Crusaders at home – the Stormers need to win two out of three before going on tour.
Now they have lost the first one, so the pressure just builds from here. Erasmus admitted that he was nervous before the Bulls match, which is understandable. He is under tremendous pressure to turn the Stormers into a top team, capable of reaching the semi-finals at least.
Erasmus is a great thinker on the game. He has instilled discipline and determination and brought structure to a perennially laissez-faire attitude in the Cape.
But maybe he should loosen the shackles a bit. The Stormers backs in particular need to play with a bit more joie de vivre. Then we could see the true potential of this Stormers team shining through.Tweet