Are the Stormers buckling under the pressure of expectation in Cape Town again?
The Cape Times reports that the old affliction has had long-suffering Stormers fans tearing their hair out over the years. The Stormers always have great potential, but tend to stumble just when they get into contention.
They had it all to play for against the Sharks in Durban at the weekend: a home semi-final, and a chance to play for No 1 on the log against the Bulls at Newlands on Saturday. They blew it, though, on a blustery and humid night on the east coast.
Teams can have off-nights, where the ball just doesn’t stick, wrong options are taken and nothing goes your way. But what was worrying was the fact that the Stormers’ much-famed defence also went awry. They have the best defence in the competition, having conceded the least amount of tries (an unbelievable 16!), but several tackles were ineffective or just missed on Saturday night.
The Sharks gained great momentum from slipping those tackles, and it resulted in the Stormers being continually on the back foot. They had 11 missed tackles in the first half alone, and they added another two in the second half. Of course, the physicality from the Sharks was something to behold as well.
But is there something different about this Stormers team compared to previous editions, who tended to crumble when under pressure? Well, based on how they have come back from previous defeats, you would have to say yes. They have hit back with good victories after disappointing games, most notably against the Blues, after losing to the Force, and the recent win over the Crusaders after slipping up against the Reds.
However, now they are faced with the real prospect of not even making the semi-finals if they lose to the Bulls on Saturday. Fortunately for them, they will know exactly what is required as the Newlands derby is the last game of the weekend. But that could also work against them, as knowing what to do has been too much of a burden for the Stormers at times in the past.
At least a bonus point for scoring four tries won’t be required! If the Stormers are able to beat what should be a weakened Bulls outfit on Saturday, they will reach their first Super rugby semi-final since 2004, and a first home playoff since 1999.
So, that would be an achievement to be celebrated, especially in Allister Coetzee’s first season as head coach. They have played some thrilling attacking rugby along the way, which has been refreshing to see, combined with outstanding defence.
But the way the Stormers have been playing this season, it could have been even better. Now it’s all about Saturday. They’ve chosen the hard way, so they simply have to “pitch up”, as Coetzee likes to say, against the Bulls and earn their semi-final place.
The joke around Cape Town is that a fund should be set up to pay for Sireli Naqelevuki’s immediate flight back to Fiji!
Naqelevuki won’t be forgiven for his blunder against the Sharks any time soon, which comes after last year’s high tackle in the Currie Cup semi-final against the Blue Bulls at Newlands, so it would be prudent of Coetzee to not start him against the Bulls on Saturday, especially with Joe Pietersen available again.
But why wasn’t he taken off at halftime in Durban? His clanger in trying to ground the ball in-goal to allow Ruan Pienaar to score a vital try happened just before the break, so it would’ve been easy to replace him and bring on Pietersen for the second half.
Naqelevuki then proceeded to lose the ball while rumbling back before any Sharks defender got to him 11 minutes into the second half, while he later also knocked on when a Peter Grant pass went a little behind him. He had obviously lost confidence, so maybe a trick was missed there.
Naqelevuki’s contract ends at the end of the month, and most Capetonians will feel that it shouldn’t be renewed!Tweet