The Stormers will never win the Vodacom Super Rugby title until they own up to and address their patent shortcomings, writes JON CARDINELLI.
In the aftermath of the 25-24 victory over the Brumbies, the Stormers were full of complaints. Allister Coetzee criticised the referee, Stuart Berry, for coaching rather than penalising the Brumbies at the tackle. Coetzee lamented the official’s refusal to dish out more yellow cards. Coetzee went as far as to suggest the Brumbies are perennial cheats at the breakdown, and that the possibility of a spectacle at Newlands was ruined because of the big bad Aussies’ spoiling tactics.
Coetzee’s outburst was unprovoked and bizarre. It was almost as if he wanted an apology from the Brumbies for existing as competitive and determined rugby players. Perhaps Coetzee should have just come out and admitted the truth, that the Stormers were unprepared for the challenge and that the collective failed to adapt to the referee on the day or make more of their scoring chances.
In 2015, with the laws as they are, is it really so surprising to see teams pushing the boundaries at the breakdown, either in an attempt to kill opposition momentum or force a turnover? Can the Stormers really be so surprised that the Brumbies rocked up in Cape Town with the intent to play this game at their own pace and rhythm?
Coetzee listed the 19 penalties conceded by the Brumbies, and said that the visitors were negative. He criticised Berry for taking no further action against offending players.
Of course, for us neutrals who watched the game at Newlands, it appeared as if the Brumbies had as much right to lament Berry’s performance as the Stormers. Berry penalised the Brumbies almost exclusively in the second stanza, and was particularly hard on them at the breakdown.
That lop-sided penalty count could be justified if the Stormers were dominating the collisions as well as the breakdowns, but if you watched the game, the Australians were often on the front foot. If any team was hard done by this past Saturday, it was the Brumbies.
And if any team has been lucky in the past week, or even the past month, it’s been the Stormers. Indeed, Christian Lealiifano had an opportunity to kick his side into the lead in the 73rd minute, with a conversion attempt in front of the posts. When he hit the upright, the chance evaporated, and the Stormers escaped with a valuable win.
Two weeks before the Brumbies match, Handré Pollard missed two attempts that would have given the Bulls an advantage over the Stormers. Pollard pushed a penalty attempt wide, and then had a last-minute drop-goal attempt charged down by Duane Vermeulen.
That individual brilliance was the difference between winning and losing. And the win overshadowed the fact that the Stormers collective failed to perform consistently over the course of that clash, and were really nothing special.
But thus has been their season. There have been some outstanding individual performances, but the collective showings have been inconsistent and unconvincing. This has in turn impacted on results, and it’s significant that the Stormers have lost to the three top New Zealand sides, considering the Kiwis are the benchmark in this competition.
So much has been made of the Stormers’ drive to play a more entertaining brand, and yet, they remain one of the worst attacking teams in the competition having scored a paltry 21 tries in 12 matches. Only the Reds have scored fewer tries this season (19), and that number needs to be viewed in context. The Stormers have played one more game than the Reds.
The Stormers top the South African conference at present, and there's a strong chance they will do enough in their next four games to maintain that position. But make no mistake, there is much they will need to rectify in the remaining league matches if they are going to truly challenge for the title that matters most.
Photo: Peter Heeger/Gallo Images