THE Stormers can’t throw into the lineout, can’t kick their goals and even missed a few tackles against the Bulls, so is it any wonder they are rank underdogs for tomorrow’s showdown in the Shark Tank?
But that is exactly how they like it. For some reason, despite a superb Super Rugby record in the last three years under coach Allister Coetzee, the Stormers almost become edgy when they are installed as favourites.
That was the case last week at Loftus, where a beefed-up Stormers squad rode into the capital on the back of Western Province winning the Currie Cup, and the Stormers having won at the Bullring two years in a row.
The weight of expectation seemed to be too much to bear, so much so that Elton Jantjies missed four kicks at goal when he has an 80% success rate in Super Rugby since making his debut in 2011 for the Lions.
The pressure also told on hooker Deon Fourie, who’s throwing into the lineouts became so bad that he couldn’t find Andries Bekker and Duane Vermeulen.
There was talk from the Stormers management this week about some of the players being “big-eyed” at Loftus. That had to be the Lions newcomers Jaco Taute, Jantjies and Pat Cilliers as the rest of the Cape side wouldn’t have feared the Bulls following their success in the past at the venue.
Jantjies is the only survivor of those three players for the Sharks match at Kings Park tomorrow (Taute is injured and Cilliers was dropped to the bench).
And you can be sure that the 22-year-old flyhalf won’t allow the pressure to affect his kicking if he wants to retain the Stormers No 10 jersey ahead of Peter Grant, let alone further his Springbok ambitions.
But for that to happen, the mongrel needs to return to the Stormers pack, and the man picked to fulfil that role is undoubtedly Rynhardt Elstadt. He is the tough guy, and it is known that he doesn’t hold back when tackling teammates in practice.
The 23-year-old has “red mist” floating around him, and that is what coach Allister Coetzee would want from him in Durban tomorrow.
Elstadt became a contender for Bok honours when he capped a fine Super Rugby season in 2011 as a No 4 lock by dominating Bakkies Botha in a famous Stormers victory at Loftus.
But now he is at blindside flank, a position he perhaps lacks the speed for. He would also be a good replacement for the injured Eben Etzebeth in the second row.
Coetzee and forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot insist that Elstadt can make a big impact as a flank, though, and it is up to the man himself to prove them right tomorrow.
He cannot produce the same lacklustre Loftus display against the Sharks, where he just charged aimlessly into waiting tacklers with the ball under his arm. He needs to mix things up, running off his teammates and also hitting the rucks hard and intimidating the Sharks pack.
Coach John Plumtree has hauled out Jean Deysel to do the same job for the Sharks, and it will be Elstadt’s task to sort out Deysel.
He needs to get the Stormers pack firing and make a much bigger contribution than what he did last week.
Of course, Jantjies needs to kick his goals (that’s if Joe Pietersen doesn’t take the kicks), Fourie must find his jumpers, and crucially, Frans Malherbe has to stand his ground against Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, who drilled Coenie Oosthuizen last week, in the scrums.
With Pat Lambie striking the ball sweetly, the Stormers can’t afford to give away silly penalties, especially at the scrums.
Record-breaking referee Jonathan Kaplan, though, will be much more accurate in his calls tomorrow than Jaco Peyper was at Loftus last week.
Many are writing off the Stormers, and it’s going to be difficult in the humid and slippery conditions, but Coetzee still has hope.
“The Sharks lost two games on the trot last year, and they ended playing in the final. I’ve known teams in this competition who’ve lost six games and still ended up playing in the playoffs,” he said.
“So, the pressure we put on ourselves is not from outside or the results. We’ve got to focus on the processes to get that right. That’s the only pressure that there is.
“I think that it’s still a good team that we’ve selected, and like Jean said, this is Super Rugby and it becomes tough, yes, and it won’t be easy up there. We are playing against a quality side and we’ve just got to go and do our job.”