Stormers: From bad to sad

The Stormers are at a loss to explain their rapid decline, and have no solution. It’s a depressing admission, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The Stormers have been poor this season. The quality of their performances as well as their one-from-seven win record support the statement. Indeed, I wrote after the Cape side’s only win against the Hurricanes in February that, on the basis of such a shambolic showing, they would struggle on their tour to Australasia. It was a comment that raised the ire of some Stormers fans, and even the team’s sponsors.

Charles Brewer, the MD of DHL, tweeted to ask when I intended to adopt a more optimistic stance. My response was to say that the Stormers had given me little reason to feel enthused, and that the sponsors and fans were wrong to celebrate mediocrity. The Stormers hadn’t progressed, and for a team with title aspirations that was a big negative.

That said, the Stormers have fared even worse than I expected they would. They lost all four matches Down Under, and most recently to the Waratahs at Newlands.

They’ve been hit hard by injuries, but that’s been the case for the past four seasons. They presently sit in last place on the Vodacom Super Rugby log, and even the most ardent supporter will admit that the situation is dire.

I have not received any further messages from sponsors, coaches or administrators, although I’ve heard that a few of my colleagues have been in touch with the powers that be. Officials have pleaded with them to be more positive. Again, it’s a big ask, as there’s so little to be positive about.

Poor planning – from player management to game strategy – has contributed to their decline.

The Stormers have been a soft target in 2014. The players haven’t performed to standard, but then the coaches and administrators also need to shoulder the blame for the current state of the franchise.

The Stormers stagnated in 2011 and 2012, and began to regress in 2013. The extent to which they’ve fallen in 2014 has come as a surprise, but only the extent. A decline, whether sharp or gradual, was not unexpected.

The Stormers aren’t in a hole because of a few consecutive defeats. They are not victims of circumstance. Poor planning – from player management to game strategy – has contributed to their decline.

To point this out is hardly negative. On the contrary, if the Stormers could own up to their shortcomings and take the necessary steps towards rectifying them, that would be a huge positive. To keep ignoring them… well, that only perpetuates the mediocrity.

With regards to the future of their game plan, there seems to be a lot of confusion at the Bellville HQ following new WP director of rugby Gert Smal’s comments last Monday.

Smal said that the Stormers would look to play a more expansive brand in future. He indirectly criticised his predecessor Rassie Erasmus and current coach Allister Coetzee for implementing a game plan that was too rigid and predictable.

He said the Stormers needed to return to a 15-man game. It was a bizarre statement if one considers how poor the Stormers were when Smal was coach back in 2005, or indeed how this brand backfired when Kobus van der Merwe’s charges embraced it in 2006 and 2007.

The problem with the Stormers over the past few seasons is that their game plan has lacked balance

Since those comments, Coetzee has come out in defence of the Stormers game plan. He is right, at least in one sense, to do so. The problem with the Stormers over the past few seasons is that their game plan has lacked balance. Theirs is a strategy that needs to be tweaked rather than abandoned.

Brendan Venter, one of modern rugby’s great minds and the architect of two championship sides, pointed this out in an excellent column last week. The Stormers don’t have an attack to complement their fine defence, and where they are predictable is that they don’t counter-attack enough.

This, along with a tactical-kicking deficiency, has prevented them from matching the best Super Rugby teams of the past few seasons – think the Bulls, Chiefs, Crusaders, Sharks, and Reds, who have all boasted a defence as strong as their attack – in the big games. The Stormers already have one piece of the puzzle in place, and should work towards finding the others.

These are dark and uncertain times for the Stormers, not only because they’re battling to win matches, but also because they’re struggling for the right solution. Ultimately, there should be a push to install structures and strategies that will give them the best chance of winning the Super Rugby trophy.

Until they have the answer, they should not beg the public or the media to talk about positives. In the absence of a solution that is in line with what’s worked for the best teams in world rugby, there is no cause for optimism.

Photo: Joseph Johnson/Backpagepix

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