• Super Rugby preview: Stormers

    The Stormers are under pressure to perform in 2015 after two disappointing seasons.

    Like a bad experience that one seeks to block out, but comes back to haunt again and again, the Stormers and their loyal fans will somehow forget about their mediocre 2014 campaign and enter the 2015 tournament believing they are title contenders. They are likely to be disappointed again.

    The Cape franchise sought to compensate for their coaching staff’s shortcomings by bringing in Gert Smal in a director of rugby capacity. His influence was patent, in so much as it created a hybrid approach, where the team was caught between their previously pragmatic style and Smal’s misplaced belief that you can overwhelm elite Super Rugby defences through expansive attack.

    That method contributed largely to them winning the Currie Cup, which probably saved Allister Coetzee’s job, but will be exposed as tactically naive if they persist with it. And there is no indication the Stormers will move away from it.

    In the Stormers’ pomp (2010-2012), Newlands was a fortress. Recently, that air of intimidation has eroded.

    They’ve also failed to add any high-calibre players to their squad and are short of quality in key positions, most notably flyhalf. With captain Jean de Villiers expected to miss the entire competition because of a knee injury, the Stormers will rely on Duane Vermuelen and Schalk Burger to drive them to a respectable finish, when a top-four placing requires a strong and consistent collective effort.

    Taking their coaching and personnel problems into account, a mid-table finish should be considered a success.

    FORWARD TO WATCH
    Having returned from a lengthy injury lay-off in the latter stages of the 2014 campaign, Schalk Burger took little time to recapture his best form. He was a key member of the Springboks’ end-of-year tour squad, playing like he was created for that stage – which, of course, he was. Having come off the bench in Dublin, Burger was Man of the Match at Twickenham after an outstanding showing at the collisions and breakdowns. He then left the squad to rejoin Suntory Sungoliath and his time in Japan will refresh him physically and mentally. Expect the 31-year-old to be the catalyst for many of the Stormers’ best performances in 2015.

    BACK TO WATCH
    The Stormers could have done with wing Seabelo Senatla, but he is unavailable due to sevens commitments. So they will rely heavily on Damian de Allende’s gainline potency to give them attacking momentum. The midfielder is big, strong and quick, and if they can engineer space and opportunities for him regularly, he could contribute significantly to solving their now chronic try-scoring woes. He will relish the opportunity to get some regular game time, having not played in last season’s Currie Cup, when all contracted Springboks were withdrawn, and only been included in the Bok match 23 for the final outing against Wales.

    PLAYERS IN
    Vincent Koch (Pumas)
    Wilco Louw (Bulls)
    Bongi Mbonambi (Bulls)

    PLAYERS OUT
    Gio Aplon (Grenoble, France)
    Pat Cilliers (Montpellier, France)
    Stephan Coetzee (Griquas)
    Jean de Villiers (injured)
    Deon Fourie (Lyon, France)
    Dylon Frylinck (Pumas)
    Tazz Fuzani (EP Kings)
    Peter Grant (La Rochelle, France)
    Brok Harris (Newport Gwent Dragons, Wales)
    Tiaan Liebenberg (retired)
    De Kock Steenkamp (Ospreys, Wales)
    Sailosi Tagicakibau (London Wasps, England)
    Gary van Aswegen (EP Kings)
    Michael van der Spuy (Griquas)

    NUMBERS THAT MATTER
    290 – The number of points the Stormers scored in 2014, the only side below 300 (Rank 15)
    30 – The number of tries they scored in the league stage (Rank 12)
    69 – The number of clean breaks they made (Rank 14)
    142 – The number of knock-ons they made (Rank 15)
    1,221 – The number of minutes No 8 Duane Vermeulen played, more than any other Stormers player (Rank 37)
    226 – The number of tackles they missed (Rank 15)
    22 – The number of lineouts they stole (Rank 5)
    19 – The number of turnovers Deon Fourie made, the most by any South African (Rank 4)
    Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App

    FAST FACT
    The Stormers had an average crowd of 24,693 for matches at Newlands in 2014, compared to 33,545 in 2013 and 41,025 in 2012

    2015 FIXTURES
    14 February vs Bulls (a)
    21 February vs Blues (h)
    28 February vs Lions (a)
    7 March vs Sharks (h)
    14 March vs Chiefs (h)
    20-21 March BYE
    28 March vs Highlanders (a)
    3 April vs Hurricanes (a)
    11 April vs Waratahs (a)
    18 April vs Force (a)
    25 April vs Bulls (h)
    2 May vs Cheetahs (a)
    9 May vs Brumbies (h)
    15-16 May BYE
    23 May vs Rebels (h)
    30 May vs Cheetahs (h)
    6 June vs Lions (h)
    13 June vs Sharks (a)

    2014 RECORD
    Won: 7 (44%)
    Lost: 9

    PREVIOUS LOG FINISHES
    1996 11th
    1997 DNP
    1998 9th
    1999 2nd (semi-finalists)
    2000 5th
    2001 7th
    2002 7th
    2003 9th
    2004 3rd (semi-finalists)
    2005 9th
    2006 11th
    2007 10th
    2008 5th
    2009 10th
    2010 2nd (finalists)
    2011 2nd (semi-finalists)
    2012 1st (semi-finalists)
    2013 7th
    2014 11th
    Note: Played as Western Province in 1996 and did not qualify in 1997
    Super 12 from 1996-2005, Super 14 from 2006-2010, 15-team Super Rugby from 2011

    FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER
    Juan de Jongh

    OTHER SA TEAM PREVIEWS
    Bulls preview
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    Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

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    Simon Borchardt