Stormers to feel growing pains

While the change to the Stormers’ coaching dynamic is long overdue, it could be some time yet before Cape fans see a Vodacom Super Rugby crown in the trophy cabinet, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Sayonara, Toetie-san. For those who are confused, or have been lazing on the beach these past three weeks, the news is that Allister Coetzee will move to Japan at the conclusion on the 2015 Super Rugby competition.

Coetzee is set to replace Gary Gold as the head honcho at the Kobelco Steelers. He will earn a ludicrous amount of money to coach in a Japanese league that has been compared to South Africa’s Currie Cup.

The Stormers have yet to confirm the move. The powers that be will reveal whether Coetzee will or will not remain at the Stormers in good time. Meanwhile, impeccable sources have told this website that Coetzee wants out, and will be in Japan once the Stormers’ 2015 campaign concludes. There is no if or but about it.

Of course, there was a lot to be gleaned at this past Friday’s press conference at Newlands. On Friday morning, yet another speculative story about Coetzee’s move to the Far East emerged in the media. Inevitably, it was all anybody could talk about in the press box while the pre-season game between the Stormers and Cheetahs played out.

The post-match press conference was delayed by as many as 25 minutes, as Coetzee and company prepared for the big question about his future. When that question was asked, Coetzee said that he hadn’t signed any contract as yet, not one for the Steelers or a contract extension with the Stormers. Coetzee added that this decision would not effect his commitment to the Cape franchise in 2015.

The latter is a great line, and I expect that many will be lauding Coetzee’s loyalty to a Stormers side that he has already served for seven seasons. But while I have no doubt he will commit himself wholeheartedly to one final cause in 2015, it must be said that recent developments at the union have shaped his decision to leave. And after five seasons as head coach with no Super Rugby title to show for it, the time is right to move on.

The Stormers were never better than when Rassie Erasmus was the de facto director of rugby, and Coetzee was the head coach. The 2010 Super Rugby season remains the best in the team’s history. They reached the final of the tournament, and were ultimately defeated by an outstanding Bulls team in Soweto.

They should have kicked on from there to become the best franchise on the planet. Instead, they stagnated. This is as much the fault of the Stormers’ administration as it is a coaching team that never worked to further the team or game plan.

2007 was a watershed year for the Stormers, not so much in terms of results, but certainly with regards to a change in personnel. Coach Kobus van der Merwe was replaced by Erasmus, and the latter proceeded to change to the culture at the Cape franchise. Three years later, the Cape side played in its first Super Rugby final.

But since Erasmus and several other influential coaches have departed, the franchise has stagnated. 2014 was another big year for all the wrong reasons.

Gert Smal came in as the new director of rugby, and set about making some monumental changes. Some of these changes weren’t well received by the exisiting coaching staff, but as Smal told me in an interview before the start of the 2014 Currie Cup, that was just tough. Smal had a long-term plan for the Stormers and Western Province, and it was clear even then that anybody who didn’t buy into his plan was welcome to leave.

Following that, Smal made some important appointments, bringing in former Bulls kicking coach Vlok Cilliers, as well as Henning Gericke, the mental coach who helped Jake White’s Boks win the 2007 World Cup. It was the first time since that 2010 final (the Stormers have lost two Super Rugby play-offs in the interim) the Cape side had acknowledged that they required additional help in the tactical kicking and mental strength department.

More recently, Smal has brought Paul Treu, the former Springbok and Kenya Sevens coach, into the coaching set-up. It’s been clear from the outset that Smal has moved to change the game plan as well as the culture at the Stormers. He has appointed men who have the potential to do so, and in time this Stormers team may develop a culture that can bring the Cape side that elusive trophy.

But that is unlikely to come to pass in 2015. Coetzee was the right man for the head coaching job in 2010, but has failed to take this team forward in the subsequent four seasons.

This year, we can expect more of the same, or perhaps even a drop in standards now that world-renowned defence coach Jacques Nienaber is no longer in the mix. This could be the final season in which Coetzee, Matt Proudfoot, and Robbie Fleck form the core of the Stormers coaching staff.

Treu is in Cape Town with the Stormers, and Smal is reportedly a fan of Treu's rugby philosophy. However, what’s concerning to hear is that Treu is yet be assigned a definitive role in the current set-up.

It's understood that Coetzee is unhappy with Treu's appointment. This is not hard to believe, considering that prior to Smal rejoining the franchise on 31 March 2014, Coetzee was effectively the director of rugby as well as the head coach. Coetzee used to have all the power. Nowadays he has to serve within Smal’s framework, and buy into Smal’s vision for the future. He no longer has control.

That future certainly has potential, although it will take some time before the plans bear fruit. Any success in 2015, under the existing coaching triumvirate,  would come as a surprise.

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

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