Stormers’ mental challenge

Allister Coetzee hopes the Springbok training camp doesn’t distract the Stormers ahead of their crucial battle against the Brumbies. JON CARDINELLI reports.

Heroes one week, villains the next. The Stormers have struggled for consistency this season, and those physical and mental failings have led to some humiliating results. Most recently, it was a lack of urgency that culminated in a 25-17 loss to the Cheetahs, the last-placed side in the South African conference.

Coach Coetzee and captain Duane Vermeulen have demanded that the side ‘gets up’ for the coming clash against the Brumbies. This may be easier said than done, however, as 15 Stormers players are currently in Johannesburg for a national training camp. This group will only return to the Stormers set-up on Thursday.

All five franchises have known about the two national training camps since the beginning of the 2015 season. And yet, Coetzee has reason to lament the timing of this first Springbok gathering.

The Stormers' defeat to the Cheetahs was a big setback. Suddenly, they need to beat the Brumbies this weekend just to keep the pressure on the South African conference leaders, the Vodacom Bulls. And given there's so much to rectify after the loss in Bloemfontein, both mentally and physically, Coetzee would have liked to have his full squad in training for the entire week.

The Stormers coach didn’t go so far as to say the Brumbies will be favourites. But he does feel the Cape side faces a significant challenge in the buildup to the clash.

‘We agreed to the national training camps [and the release of players] at the start of the year, but this is definitely going to be a hell of a challenging week for us,’ Coetzee said. ‘We’ve spoken about the players not having that “edge” last week [in Bloemfontein]. They know they will need to be up for it when a very good Brumbies outfit comes to Newlands this week.

‘We have to try and make this work [with regards to the players being away for a national training camp]. I’ve seen their programme, and so I know they will have two sessions on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. So I don’t know if they will be refreshed when they come back to the Stormers. Usually they have a break at some point in the week, but they won’t this week. It’s an unusual challenge.’

While Jean de Villiers, Ruan Botha, Juan de Jongh and Kobus van Wyk are part of the 15-strong group at that Bok training camp, they are not available for the Stormers at present because of injuries. The others, namely Schalk Burger, Nizaam Carr, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe, Scarra Ntubeni and Vermeulen, are all expected to face the Brumbies.

‘Maybe one of the positives is that we won’t have more time to dwell on that performance against the Cheetahs,’ said Coetzee. ‘We didn’t deserve to win that match. One of the things we need to prove is that we can handle the favourites tag. We didn’t do that well last week.’

Kurt Coleman struggled to handle pressure in that match, missing four shots on goal. The replacement flyhalf, as well as Coetzee himself, have come in for fierce criticism after that performance.

And yet, Coetzee has defended the decision to trade the reliable goal-kicking of starting flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis for the attacking skills of Coleman at a crucial point of the derby against the Cheetahs. The Stormers coach said the change was for tactical and statistical reasons, and gave the impression that the Cape side will push forward with this strategy for the rest of their campaign.

‘I know that in the minds of a lot of people, I got it wrong,’ Coetzee said. ‘But I know that it was the right decision. Kurt attacked well and kicked damned well out of hand. I maintain that this is the right thing to be doing.

‘I also don’t think you can blame that loss on one person. In the buildup to that game, we spoke about accuracy, but we just didn’t get it right on the day. There are so many examples of players making mistakes.

'We didn’t have that edge, say, that we had in the buildup to a game against the Bulls. It’s something the players need to learn, they have to have that edge week after week in this competition.’

Injuries disrupt first Bok camp

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli