Yet another season is passing for the Stormers with no signs of progression. They are a franchise in crisis, writes RYAN VREDE.
A team with genuine championship credentials would have put the lowly Cheetahs away in Bloemfontein on Saturday. The Stormers didn't because they aren't.
Captain Duane Vermeulen was forthright in his assessment. 'In a way, we pitched up here in an arrogant mental state,' he said. 'There was some arrogance after beating the Bulls the previous week and pitching up here against a team near the bottom of the standings and thinking we were going to win the game. Rugby is a physical game, but also a mental game. You have got to play both very well. We pitched up physically, but I think we lost it in the mental game.'
Championship suitors seldom make this mistake. They challenge themselves to attain higher levels of performance week on week, irrespective of the calibre of their opponents. They see every match as an occasion and duly rise to it. Pretenders make an occasion out of select fixtures, and while they may rouse themselves to a high level of performance for those fixtures, they are prone to blowouts, the likes of what was seen in Bloemfontein.
Yet Vermeulen's appraisal only highlighted part of the problem. I've written many times that the coaching staff are inadequately equipped to make the team anything more than pretenders. Tactically they've developed chronic struggles when asked to chase a game. Their attacking strategy relies too heavily on the boot of Demetri Catrakilis and when blunted in the territory stakes they become a soft touch for opponents that are defensively well organised.
Kurt Coleman's diabolical goal-kicking contributed significantly to the defeat and his injection into a contest that required more tactical patience from the Cape side was a grave coaching error. Coach Allister Coetzee has consistently introduced Coleman in the second half irrespective of the match situation or Catrakilis's form. He did so again on Saturday when it was clear the starting flyhalf wasn't the cause of their struggle. Ultimately the team paid the price for Coetzee's decision. Indeed the Stormers are paying the price for retaining him despite their stark regression post-2010.
Coetzee will move on following this campaign but that in itself will not alleviate their problems. The franchise is rotting from the top down, with key leaders making consistently amateurish decisions and lacking the vision and skill to drag it into the bright, new future that awaits. It borders on sinful that a franchise as well resourced, both in terms of players and finance, has yet to win a Vodacom Super Rugby title. It's indicative of deep-rooted and debilitating mediocrity in a myriad of key performance areas (on and off the field) that they are now even facing a battle to make it into the play-offs.
A Currie Cup title in 2014 helped, once again, to create the illusion of progress. The reality is that the domestic competition has long ceased to be a measure of progress. It merely serves to reward the team that has played well over the last two Saturdays of the tournament.
It should infuriate Stormers supporters that once again their beloved side will be also-rans watching the tournament's elite contest the title. Yet they will stream to Newlands in their thousands on Saturday to watch their heroes battle the Brumbies, while thousands more will be glued to their TVs in the hope that a victory, this victory, will signal the turning point in the Super Rugby journey.
It won't be. Real, sustained change will only come from the introduction of more competent and dynamic leaders in executive positions who will know they are at the helm of a sleeping giant and exhibit the skill to rouse it from its slumber.
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