Storm alert ahead of new season

The Stormers will have no excuse if they fail to snap their Vodacom Super Rugby mediocrity in 2020, writes RYAN VREDE in the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine.

New issue: Super Rugby preview edition 

In 2010 the Stormers had one of the most complete Super Rugby sides ever assembled. That was was amplified by a world class coaching team, overseen by the current world champion coach Rassie Erasmus. 

Sadly for them they ran into the Vodacom Bulls in the final. The Pretoria-based franchise were at the peak of their power, boasting the most tactically astute and talent-laden South African team in the tournament’s history. Despite this, the Stormers acquitted themselves well, losing narrowly but testing the Bulls in a manner few had that season.

They were never able to build on that season in the years afterward, partly due to key players taking up contracts abroad, an uncharacteristically average crop of young players coming through, the appointment of coaches without the requisite experience and technical competency, and turmoil at boardroom level, among other factors.  

They lurched from one mediocre season to another over the next decade, each campaign beginning with fighting talk and commitments to end the suffering of their unwaveringly loyal fans. It has always ended with concessions of their failings – which were often glaringly obvious to even the most novice observer – and promises of deep collective and individual introspection.

The 2019 campaign was no different but this needs to end immediately. I’m optimistic about this because they’ve freed themselves of the woefully deficient clutches of Robbie Fleck and appointed John Dobson, who has steadily worked his way up the coaching ladder at the union. He has a CV featuring the type of accomplishments that should earn you a crack as a head coach in Super Rugby.

More importantly, despite their well-publicised administrative crisis, the franchise has managed to retain the services of key players, including the bulk of the World Cup-winning contingent. Add to that a gang of gifted young bucks, which includes 2018’s junior world player of the year Juarno Augustus, being locked into contracts and you have the right to have high expectations of the chronic underachievers.

READ: Stormers confirm Super Rugby squad

You have legitimate grounds on which to base that expectation. They have more Springboks than any other franchise and they are hardly bit-part players for the national team. The Stormers have Siya Kolisi – the Bok captain, a man who grew in stature as a player, leader and as a gobal cultural figure with every game in Japan.

They have Bongi Mbonambi who unseated one of the world’s premier hookers in Malcolm Marx. There’s Pieter-Steph du Toit, a man made entirely of muscle, granite will and electricity.

Steven Kitshoff transformed the shape of games when he came off the wood for the Boks, while fellow prop Frans Malherbe was central to the Boks’ success through his immense contributions across a number of key performance areas. They have Damian Willemse, the boy wonder who, with time nurturing his talent, can be truly special. Then there’s Herschel Jantjies, whose ascent shows no signs of slowing.

These men play in a rugby market that is the envy of most in the tournament. Tens of thousands pay to watch them every week, irrespective of how poor the return on their investment is. When they’ve got it together, like that 2010 season, there really isn’t a better place than Cape Town to play, nor a more vibrant crowd to do that in front of.  

So you have the right to feel entitled to heightened expectations. Not only that, you shouldn’t expect anything short of the consistently high level of performance that should be produced a team populated with the depth of talent this one has.

The time for letting these beautiful letdowns off lightly must end. The Stormers are at a stage of their evolution where they have to not only embrace the expectation, but wear it comfortably. Barring an horrendous injury wave, they can win the whole damn thing. That’s how much potential this group has.

Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

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Ryan Vrede