The Stormers' success will be built on attacking improvement. Ominously for their supporters, that looks to be beyond their coaching staff, writes RYAN VREDE.
The Super Rugby season kicks off in a fortnight and in Cape Town the annual optimism that the Stormers will end their title drought will start to build. Their faithful supporters will pack the stands once more, hoping to see them translate their perceived potential into silverware. It won't happen, not under the current coaching trio.
The Stormers contested the final in 2010 but have regressed steadily since. Last year they finished seventh, with coach Allister Coetzee consistently blaming injuries for their struggles. Certainly this had an impact, but the degree thereof was exaggerated. Coetzee and co would have privately looked at their try-scoring record and cringed.
Only the Force and Kings scored fewer tries than the Cape franchise. The problem, once an acute one mildly lamented by their players, coaches, supporters and the Cape media, has long ago become a chronic struggle which has greatly compromised their success.
The coaching staff have addressed the issue as a matter of high importance in pre-season, they claim. Yet they are paying lip service. They've been exposed as incapable of improving the side in this regard, and are out of credit after making several withdrawals in their efforts to placate a demanding rugby fraternity in Cape Town.
To be in the mix for a home play-off they have to make a 10-15 try improvement
They and those still sympathetic to their cause will point to a four-try haul in their pre-season hit out against the Bulls as reason to keep the faith. Look below the surface and you'll find this to be a shallow claim. Twice they scored from rolling mauls, a constant source of tries last season, and once against a defence depleted by Francois Hougaard's yellow card.
I want to see the Stormers' attacking prowess match their defensive skill, which has no equal in the competition. This is a pipe dream. To be in the mix for a home play-off (surely the goal for a team boasting the calibre of player they do), they have to make a 10-15 try improvement. This must happen without the services of Bryan Habana, departed for Toulon, and, intially, the man they had hoped would offer them attacking flair in Habana's absence, Cheslin Kolbe (sidelined for at least the first four matches through injury).
An improvement of that degree seems a long shot at this point, which sets up the season as another of bitter disappointment for the Stormers. That is unless there is an acknowledgement of their coaches' limitations in the form of a proven, high-quality, full-time addition to their staff, or at very least, a consultant of note.
Their defence and goal-kicking will earn them wins against teams of inferior ability, keeping them in the play-off conversation. However, it won't be enough to sink a couple of the title contenders, who are equipped to negotiate this strength, and, tellingly, repel their elementary attacking strategy.
This isn't a call for a cavalier approach. Indeed, the manner in which they surge into their opponents' territory – a strong tactical kicking game and pressure-creating defence – is sound. But what they've produced once in those areas of the field has been sterile and is desperately in need of significant improvement. Failure to do so will see their mediocrity continue and result in another nearly-year for the tournament's great pretenders.
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