Halfbacks may hamper Stormers

The success of the Stormers' new approach will hinge on the decision-making of their halfbacks, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Between Eddie Jones, Gert Smal and Robbie Fleck, the 'what' and the 'why' have been well established. The Stormers need to adopt a more balanced approach. They have to improve their attack and become a greater try-scoring threat. Why? Because the one-sided game plan utilised these past few seasons has not yielded the necessary results.

The 'how', of course, is less clear. Smal made a couple of key recruitments in the off-season, and there's little doubt that JC Janse van Rensburg and Pieter Steph-du Toit will bolster the Cape side's set piece. And yet the big question of how the Stormers intend to use their attacking ball, and more importantly their turnover ball, remains.

The Stormers hope to play a high-tempo game in 2016. Fleck has spoken about following the New Zealand template, about getting the fundamentals right first so that the platform is set for their dangerous runners to attack.

Of course, individual decision-making will be key to the success of this approach. The focus will be on the Stormers halfbacks to create opportunities and steer the team in the right direction, even more so than in previous seasons.

However, when one looks at the group of halfbacks that have been tasked with this demanding assignment, it's clear that the Stormers will head into the new tournament with more hope than conviction.

Fleck said that he's excited to see what his clutch of young flyhalves can do on the Super Rugby stage. He feels that Robert du Preez is ready to step up after an encouraging Currie Cup tournament, and that his Western Province U21 protégés, Jean-Luc du Plessis and Brandon Thompson, are also ready for the challenge.

But youngsters don't become superstars overnight. It can take years before a flyhalf has the experience and confidence to marshal a backline, as Dan Carter himself admitted in his autobiography. Typically, a youngster is carefully managed in his first season. He relies on senior players and mentors to bring him up to speed. He isn't burdened with too much responsibility.

Of course, some players don't become superstars at all. Kurt Coleman is going into his sixth season of Super Rugby. Throughout this tenure, he's never been regarded as the Stormers' first-choice flyhalf.

But now, in the wake of Demetri Catrakilis's departure to Montpellier, the 26-year-old could assume the role for the simple reason that there are no experienced alternatives. Coleman will have much to prove after a particularly disappointing 2015 Super Rugby campaign.

The Stormers No 10 position has been a source of many a coaching headache over the years. The limitations of every player to wear that jersey in that period have been patent, especially in the play-off matches. Be it Peter Grant, Catrakilis or Coleman, the chosen flyhalf has failed to fire on the big occasion.

The same has been true of the No 9s. The quality of the decision-making has been poor in the big knockout matches. And it's for this reason that Nic Groom, one of the chief culprits in the 2015 play-off against the Brumbies, may not be the long-term answer at scrumhalf.

Fleck believes he will have a better idea of his preferred starting side for the Super Rugby tournament after the warm-up game against the Jaguars this Saturday. Some might say fair enough. Others will say that not too much should be read into pre-season fixtures, which usually lack the physicality and pace of a bona fide Super Rugby contest.

By now, the coaches should know what they have in Groom and Coleman. Indeed, the long-suffering Newlands faithful should know what to expect after six seasons of watching the pair fire and frustrate in equal measure.

It should be a concern as the Stormers prepare to back a high-tempo game plan that hinges on the decision-making of their 9 and 10.

Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/BackpagePix

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Jon Cardinelli