Absolute heartbreak, two words define the stormers season of 2010. The question on everyone`s lips, who lives in the shadow of the mountain, is simply this: Can they go one better in 2011?
Reaching the finals last year came as a bit of a surprise to friend and foe alike. Yes we all talked about their new backline stars but did we really believe they can go almost all the way? After all, for super rugby success you need a bit more than a flashy backline. The Stormers have always lacked the quality forwards needed in this competition, don`t get me wrong they do have some stars in the pack, but depth and particularly the front row has always been a bit of a problem for them.
Not anymore says coach Coetzee. “ I am very pleased with the way that Rassie has recruited “ . . .
No doubt he`s referring to CJ van der Linde, roped in to beef up the pack. But don`t discount the contribution of Brok Harris. Solid enough at tighthead but it`s in the loose where he really adds value, not unlike a certain Adrian Garvey . . .
They have a bit of an advantage in super rugby 2011. A bit more depth with the likes of JJ Engelbrecht and Elgar Watts in their ranks but also a fit, well rested Schalk Burger and Andries Bekker. Remember they both missed the Bok end of year tour in 2010.
They were one of the best defensive sides in SA last year and have an embarrassment of riches in midfield. Seems coach Allister Coetzee`s biggest headache, barring serious injuries, would be where to select all his stars?
They have a very favourable draw this year as well. Yes they have that obscure Bye in round one and they go on tour fairly late in the tournament but the fact that they won`t face the Hurricanes, a bit of a bogey side for them because of their similar playing style and the Waratah`s would help them. The Waratah`s are widely tipped as the strongest Australian contender this year, the Stormers will just slip past them and where other contenders face a potential loss they can pick up an extra try bonus point against teams like the Blues, Force and Rebels.
They have the dreaded Crusader match in the Magical Mothercity as well.
Die hard Stormers will tell you their biggest gain is one of their losses, that`s right I`m referring to Naqalivuki who cost them in crucial situations.
Despite all these points in their favour they will have to do the hard yards against the local opposition. WP supporters loathe to remember a certain currie cup fixture they lost against Free State, at Newlands last season and they also lost away against the lowly Lions.
True they now have a better distributor than Willem at pivot but what they gain on the attack they might lose in kicking accuracy. Would Peter Grant offer the same reliable boot? Then there is the depth conundrum, all their talent lies out wide, they don`t have experienced backup at flyhalf. Lionel Cronje will get his first bite at the cherry , ditto Elgar Watts. Could Elgar Watts be their Elton Jantjies this year? He would get better front foot ball behind the Stormers pack and with all the bok centres around him he looks set to go. It`s really up to him now.
The Stormers will throw down with the Sharks for that coveted qualifying position in the super 15. Yes the Sharks have a very good record against them but a slightly less favourable draw. Would the Crusaders ultimately decide the fate of the Sharks and Stormers this year? Time will tell . . .
Possible starting XV:
Gio Aplon, Juan de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Juan de Jongh, Brian Habana, Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Andries Bekker, Adriaan Fondse, Schalk Burger, Brok Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg, Wicus Blaauw.