JON CARDINELLI looks at how poor handling and poor decision-making have hampered the Stormers’ attack in 2019.
The Stormers have had their problems on attack over the past few seasons. Last year, they ranked last in the 15-team tournament for tries scored (46) and 13th for total points (390).
Coach Robbie Fleck was adamant that the team would play with more freedom in 2019. Those of us who attended that pre-season press conference at Newlands were urged to believe that the Stormers would breach the better defences and score more tries.
Yet here we are, six games into the Cape side’s campaign, and they’ve crossed the line just nine times. No team has scored fewer tries or points than the Stormers thus far.
The Stormers went down 24-9 to the Blues in Auckland last Saturday. While they enjoyed some go-forward at the gainline, they finished the game tryless.
There was a moment when the Stormers combined to beat the defence and cross the tryline. In the clip below, we see Pieter-Steph du Toit making a good call to attack left where the Blues are short on numbers.
Dillyn Leyds sums up the situation well and produces a well-weighted grubber kick into space. Josh Stander collects the rolling kick and scores.
The try is disallowed, and rightly so. Steven Kitshoff’s pass to Leyds is clearly forward.
Finishing was a problem at Eden Park. The Stormers conceded 18 turnovers over the course of the game.
They beat 25 defenders, made 13 linebreaks, completed 18 offloads and threw a whopping 237 passes. Yet they still failed to get into the end zone for a valid try.
The Stormers started well, taking the ball through the phases and finding some space in the wider channels. When they were awarded a penalty in the fourth minute, Siya Kolisi opted to set the lineout and keep the momentum going.
The ensuing passage of play summed up the Stormers’ night on attack.
Bongi Mbonambi – who continues to impress as a ball-carrier and to frustrate as a lineout thrower – fails to hit Eben Etzebeth cleanly at the lineout (as seen below). The Stormers get the ball back, but now they need to make quick decisions and reorganise their attack.
Jean-Luc du Plessis is caught flat-footed in midfield, but manages to set up another phase. Herschel Jantjies arrives at the ruck and aims to hit the pod of Etzebeth and Mbonambi. The scrumhalf’s pass misses its target by some distance, though. Look at how far the Stormers have to track back to recover.
The Stormers take the ball through three more phases. There is a knock-on at the next ruck, though, and the movement comes to a disappointing end.
Mbonambi was involved in another incident when he peeled around the lineout in the eighth minute. On that occasion, the throw by the hooker and the catch by the jumper were spot on. Mbonambi’s pass to Damian de Allende on his outside, however, was forward.
The Stormers did launch well on occasion. In the 17th minute, they won a lineout and then made good ground with some big carries up the middle. As seen below, the pressure begins to tell on the Blues defence as Jantjies puts Jaco Coetzee through a hole.
Jantjies runs a good support line. Coetzee shapes to pass to the scrumhalf, but opts to keep the ball at the last minute. He is brought to ground and the Blues defence gets back to prepare for the next assault.
The Blues have numbers on their feet, and are well organised. The hosts concede a penalty for not releasing, but do well to stop the Stormers over 20 phases. By the time a Stormers pass drifts into touch, it feels like the Blues have scored a moral victory.
Defence has been an issue on this tour to New Zealand. The Stormers haven’t looked after the ball-carriers in the wider channels. Their one-on-one tackling has been shocking. Last Saturday, they missed 26 attempts and finished with a woeful success rate of 78%.
The attack has been consistently poor, though. They’ve had very little to celebrate this year, apart from the four-try return against the Jaguares in round five.
While they are blessed with great attacking players like Kitshoff, Du Toit, Kolisi, Damian Willemse, De Allende, Leyds and several others on their roster, the Stormers just can’t seem to fire with any consistency as a collective.
Six of their nine tries have been scored from first phase, and three after the second or third phase. Poor decision-making and skills have let them down during the latter stages of an attacking movement. There have been many instances where their backs have looked indecisive and uncomfortable when in possession.
The Stormers rank last in the tournament for run metres (2,475) and linebreaks (20). It’s little wonder that they rank 15th for tries and points scored, and have only won three of their six matches to date.
They’ve kicked more than any other side this season. Their accuracy in this department has been found wanting, though.
In the shot below, we see Kitshoff standing at first receiver. The prop passes to De Allende – standing on the halfway line – who then opts to kick over the Blues defence.
The Stormers look well placed to attack the right-hand flank, both in terms of depth and numbers. The decision to kick is a good one, though, given that the Blues have numbers in the defensive line and only scrumhalf Jonathan Ruru sweeping at the back.
The execution of the kick, however, is poor. The ball sails well over the defensive line, and there’s no opportunity for the chasers to retrieve it before it goes into touch.
It will be interesting to see how the Stormers respond in Brisbane this Friday. The pack will be without key players such as Du Toit and Etzebeth, and may struggle to set a dominant platform for the backs. The backs in turn will have less time to make those crucial decisions and passes.
Photo: Michael Bradley/Getty Images