Same old Stormers get same results

Anyone asked to pay to watch the Stormers for the remainder of the season should be charged half the price, writes MARK KEOHANE in his Business Day column.

In a month’s time I’ll probably write that anyone still going to Newlands should be given free entry.

It is a crime to charge people to watch what was on offer at the weekend. It is also a crime to appoint a director of rugby, who laments the dire state of the team’s approach and then says nothing will change until the end of the season for fear of confusing the players. Gert Smal should rather have said nothing on his appointment. All he did was further confuse the situation.

Smal said this was a time when the struggling Stormers coaching trio needed support and not the axe. He said the Stormers needed to play more expansive and free-flowing rugby. He said the approach needed to change. He said the players were restricted in their approach and that it was because of coaching. What he didn’t have to say was that there would be no change.

You can write off the rest of the Super Rugby season in Cape Town in terms of play-off aspirations. The Stormers are 15th out of 15 and they have yet to play the Bulls, Sharks and Cheetahs. But why write it off doing the same old?

The Stormers, against the Waratahs, did the same things they have done for the past two seasons and seemed to be expecting a different result.

They were awful against a Tahs side that took a beating in Durban, yet their captain and coach spoke of positives.

The pleasantries are indicative of a team that has become comfortable and stale. They are all mates, both coaches and players. And now even the coaches and president are mates.

In professional sport there has to be consequence to performance. You win, you get rewarded. You lose, you get reprimanded. You lose six from your last seven and 13 from your last 23 and you shouldn’t be seeing out a season in charge.

Rugby in the Western Cape still has some way to go when it comes to a professional approach around coaches. Mediocrity is tolerated and excused on the basis of existing employment contracts.

Which brings me back to my starting point. Don’t charge for a premium product when all you have, by choice, is a low budget offering.

If the complication in getting rid of Allister Coetzee and his two assistants is because of cash, then say so. But the attempt to con the rugby public that the lack of action is down to a lack of panic and born out of calm is disingenuous.

The Stormers are in a dark hole and it isn’t something that suddenly happened in Cape Town on Saturday night.

There is nothing inventive in their approach. This side doesn’t understand attack because the philosophy of Coetzee has always been to limit any risk and to win through an aggressive and suffocating defence.

The Stormers are a shambles and a pretty ugly one at that. I know most rugby supporters in Cape Town would still tolerate a team that loses, but does so with attitude and an attacking mindset.

Coetzee will remain in the job, at least until the end of the season, as another professional campaign is wasted.

Coetzee, the man who saw no merit in the attacking qualities of Willie le Roux and failed to invest in the potential of SA U19 and U20 flyhalf Handré Pollard, will get unanimous support for his loyalty to players like Peter Grant, as just one example. Grant is no longer good enough and in Coetzee’s tenure he hasn’t picked a flyhalf good enough to influence the outcome of a Super Rugby play-off match.

Teams who win Super Rugby possess game-changing halfbacks. The Stormers don’t have such a pairing this season and haven’t had these halfbacks since Coetzee took charge.

I don’t believe Smal is the saviour to the sorry mess of the Stormers. The Cape media fawning in the past week focused on his achievements as a player and of his loyalty to Western Province. The many reports also spoke of his understanding and appreciation of the complexities of Western Province rugby.

The footnote in one of them was that Smal, as head coach of the Stormers, lost his last game in charge 75-14 to the Bulls. Few recall the state of the Stormers team when Smal left.

I know he returns in a different capacity and with a decade of coaching experience through his roles as forward coach specialist with the Springboks and Ireland.

The last bit of what I just wrote is the most important. Smal worked miracles with the Boks and Ireland as an assistant coach, who specialises in forward play. He is now being asked to be the director of rugby and he is also been told he cannot get rid of Coetzee this season.

Nothing currently about Cape Town inspires confidence and the fact that there can still be a charge to watch the Stormers is as insulting as the performance was on Saturday night.

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Photo: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images