The punch-drunk Stormers will hit the Vodacom Super Rugby canvas after the two-game sojourn to New Zealand, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Stormers surprised me on Friday. It wasn’t the result that came as a shock, but rather the quality of performance.
The Cape side was abysmal in the defeat to the Lions, and little better against a weak Hurricanes side. It was surprising in that nobody could have predicted such a clumsy and rudderless showing at Newlands. Those who had expected a response after the shambles at Ellis Park must have been deeply disappointed.
Demetri Catrakilis deserves credit for that magnificent conversion in the 78th minute. The attempt was taken from the wrong side of the field for a right-footed kicker, and not far from the touchline. It was a kick that would determine the result, and the pressure on Catrakilis was immense. The Stormers flyhalf showed terrific ticker to nail that goal.
That being said, one kick from an individual should not erase what transpired in the preceding 77 minutes. Some say that ugly wins reveal the character and unity of a side, but in this case, one individual's triumph over pressure shouldn't compensate for a collective failure.
This Stormers side lack the quality to be contenders for the South African conference title let alone the overall trophy. They’ve produced two abjectly poor performances to date and their weaknesses will be exposed again when they play against the Crusaders and Chiefs in the coming weeks.
They needed to start their campaign well against the Lions and carry that momentum through to their second fixture against the Hurricanes. Only then would they have a chance of prevailing against four formidable tour opponents, all of whom qualified for the play-offs in 2013.
Failing that, their chances of succeeding in New Zealand and Australia are now depressingly slim.
No South African side has ever won in Christchurch. Will this Stormers team be the first? No. Why would they believe they could win when so many better sides have failed?
The Crusaders lost to the Blues last week, and will be keen to prove a point against the Stormers. They will view this as an opportunity to get their campaign back on track.
Apart from their supreme record at Christchurch against the Cape side, the Crusaders haven’t lost to the Stormers since 2010. In fact, the Crusaders have won the past four encounters, three of which were staged in the Stormers’ backyard. And on a few occasions they’ve done so without some of their key players.
The Crusaders know how to beat the Stormers. They should have no problem dispensing with this shoddy version of the Cape side.
Next on the schedule is a trip to Hamilton for a tussle with the Chiefs. The Stormers haven’t won at the Waikato Stadium since 2010. The current champs will be overwhelming favourites to win and send the Stormers plummeting deeper into the vortex.
The Cape side has a decent record in Australia and will have no fear of the Brumbies or Reds. They've beaten both teams home and away in recent years, and will target the 2014 fixtures in Canberra and Brisbane as games they must win.
But the Stormers have always battled with the pressure of expectation, and by the time they reach Australia they may have a 2014 record that reads: played four, lost three.
The side is short on quality as it is, and will only get worse when a few of their key players fall foul to injury. The third or fourth week of a tour is typically when players start to break down, and after two likely losses in New Zealand, morale will be low. They may fail to bounce back in Australia. Four losses on tour is a possibility.
Don’t let the recent result at Newlands fool you. These are dark times for the Stormers, and the fact will become clearer when they finish on the wrong side of the scoreline this week.
In the past, it’s been their attack, tactical kicking and lack of resolve that have cost them in big matches. In 2014, however, the Stormers have failed in just about every department. There should be no expectation for them to succeed on tour, or to win the title. The players and the coaching staff are simply not good enough.
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