The Stormers must win when it really matters in 2018, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Stormers have lost eight out of nine playoffs since the tournament’s inception. Their only playoff victory came in the semi-final against the Waratahs at Newlands in 2010. Needless to say, they will be looking to end an eight-year drought, and prove more than a few people wrong by winning at least one playoff in 2018.
A focus on conditioning in the 2017 pre-season paid dividends. The Stormers won six games in succession, including a match against the Chiefs at Newlands. That performance, said coach Robbie Fleck, proved the Cape side could match the better New Zealand sides for intensity.
The bubble burst, however, when the Stormers suffered severe beatings at the hands of the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes on their subsequent tour to New Zealand. They finished the conference stage with one of the worst defensive records (61 tries conceded).
They failed to make home advantage count in their quarter-final against the Chiefs, a side that was forced to travel from Australasia for the playoff at Newlands, and went down 17-11.
The Stormers will host the Jaguares in round one in 2018, and then head Down Under for a challenging tour that includes matches against the Waratahs, Crusaders and Highlanders. If that wasn’t hard enough, the Stormers will play eight games in a row before enjoying their first bye.
South African teams will feature in one conference instead of two this season, which means only one local side (the conference winner) will be guaranteed a place in the playoffs. The Stormers will need to overcome the better local teams, namely the Lions and Sharks, during the regular season if they hope to secure a home playoff and thus increase their chances of advancing to the semi-finals and beyond.
One cannot see a Stormers side with such a dire record in the playoffs winning a knockout match in Australasia.
FORWARD TO WATCH
Last year was a big one for Siya Kolisi. The flank was moved from blindside back to openside (a position he played for the Stormers and Boks during the early stages of his career) with outstanding results. The Stormers captaincy appeared to bring the best out of him as a ball-carrier (he ranked 14th in the tournament for linebreaks) and defender (no player made more dominant tackles). ‘Siya is a South African loose forward that plays a lot more like a Kiwi,’ said All Blacks and Chiefs flank Sam Cane ahead of last year’s quarter-final against the Stormers. Kolisi translated that Super Rugby form into some sparkling Test performances against France and Argentina later in the year. The 2018 season promises to be more demanding, though. The Stormers will be under pressure early in their campaign when they travel to Australasia. How Kolisi and the senior players respond to that challenge will determine where the Cape side finishes in the final standings.
BACK TO WATCH
Who could forget Dillyn Leyds’ miracle offload to SP Marais in the regular season fixture against the Chiefs in 2017? After being ankle-tapped by Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie, the Stormers wing endeavoured to keep the ball alive. A round-the-back pass delivered from a sitting position found Marais in space, and the Stormers fullback went on to score a memorable try. Allister Coetzee rewarded the innovative Leyds with his first Test cap not long after that. There has been some debate regarding Leyds’ best position, though. Stormers boss Robbie Fleck backed Leyds to start at flyhalf in a crunch game against the Blues last season. Coetzee preferred to use Leyds at wing for much of the 2017 Test season. WP coach John Dobson believes that Leyds is at his devastating best from the fullback position. Whether he starts at 10, 14 or 15, Leyds will lend the Stormers’ attack some bite in 2018.
Springbok Raymond Rhule has swapped the Cheetahs for the Stormers. The Cape side certainly isn’t short of wings, though.
Bok centre and former Stormers captain Juan de Jongh moved to English club Wasps after the 2017 Super Rugby tournament.
Juarno Augustus, Craig Barry, Nizaam Carr, Jaco Coetzee, Damian de Allende, Jan de Klerk, Paul de Wet, Stephan de Wit, Dan du Plessis, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Johan du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Dewaldt Duvenage, JJ Engelbrecht, Eben Etzebeth, Neethling Fouche, JC Janse van Rensberg, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi (c), Dan Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, SP Marais, Bongi Mbonambi, Salmaan Moerat, Dean Muir, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Scarra Ntubeni, Caylib Oosthuizen, Sergeal Petersen, Justin Phillips, Raymond Rhule, Carlu Sadie, Ramone Samuels, JD Schickerling, Seabelo Senatla, Joshua Stander, Kobus van Dyk, Chris van Zyl, Alistair Vermaak, Jano Vermaak, EW Viljoen, George Whitehead, Cobus Wiese, Damian Willemse, Eddie Zandberg.
17 February: Jaguares (h)
24 February: Waratahs (a)
3 March: Crusaders (a)
9 March: Highlanders (a)
17 March: Blues (h)
24 March: Reds (h)
31 March: Bulls (a)
7 April: Lions (a)
13-14: April BYE
21 April: Sharks (a)
27 April: Rebels (h)
5 May: Bulls (h)
12 May: Chiefs (h)
19 May: Sunwolves (a)
26 May: Lions (h)
BREAK FOR JUNE TESTS
30 June: Jaguares (a)
7 July: Sharks (h)
13-14: July BYE
OTHER SA PREVIEWS
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images