I think it was a bit unfair for Stormers coach Allister Coetzee and stand-in captain Duane Vermeulen to blame the players for yet another error-ridden performance against the Waratahs.
Yes, the players knock the ball on, kick the ball away or throw poorly into the lineouts. But those mistakes appear to be as a result of the environment that they work in.
Even Vermeulen had to admit that new players coming into the Stormers set-up are “scared” because the team are in a difficult situation.
Coetzee spoke about a “complete cultural change” taking place, and while he was mostly referring to on-field matters, the evolution should happen off the field too.
There is too much of an emphasis on mistakes that are made and not enough praise being given to players who may have tried something and it didn’t work out.
That seems to be the pressure that the coach was speaking about when he said: “And it’s clear – when there’s no pressure on the team, especially in the first half, the team plays with vigour and you can see their energy in that. But as soon as there is a bit of pressure, then a lot of decisions are a bit strange.”
That is exactly the problem – the players are scared to make mistakes. So they tend to opt for safety-first tactics such as a chip or kick downfield, even when they have 20 metres of open space in front of them on the counter-attack.
Just compare that to the approach of the Waratahs. Asked about Kurtley Beale’s role within the team, as he was switching between flyhalf, inside centre and fullback on Saturday, coach Michael Cheika replied: “Kurtley will probably return to the centre position next week with (Israel) Folau back, but he will still flicker between fullback and centre.
“That’s the natural way he plays – he likes to have the freedom to turn up on the field where he can take advantage of the situations that present themselves in broken play, whereas (flyhalf) Bernard Foley is more our playmaker, to set up the shape of the game.”
What a shame that Gio Aplon hasn’t been used in that way over the years. And Willie le Roux was deemed too much of a maverick to be part of the Stormers side despite three outstanding years for Boland before moving to the Cheetahs.
There is far too much of an obsession with defence. We still see defence coach Jacques Nienaber on the field at almost every break in play, barking out instructions to the players and screaming from the sidelines when the play is near to where he may be standing.
Nienaber is a brilliant operator with a tremendous work ethic, so I am not criticising him as he is just doing his job, which is to make sure that the Stormers’ defence holds up and doesn’t concede tries.
But it is up to Coetzee to take the giant leap and not let defence be the most important aspect of the Stormers’ play. He spoke after the Waratahs game about how he wants the players to “have a go” off turnover ball and not go back to the kicking and defence-orientated game, but on this season’s evidence, that has not been the case.
The fact that the Stormers’ defence has been so good over the last few years would indicate that it is something the players can do with their eyes closed. What needs to happen is for the same amount of attention given to the defence in recent seasons to be given to the attack.
Why can’t we see backline coach Robbie Fleck running along the touchline (he is still fit enough to do it!) during games, urging Jaco Taute to run with more purpose on the counter-attack than the little fox-trot he carries out at the moment, or for Louis Schreuder and Peter Grant to not kick away turnover ball?
Coetzee insisted that he wanted the players to embrace the new way forward, but perhaps just a change of voice would do the trick. The coach said that new director of rugby Gert Smal will be in meetings with the management team during this bye week to discuss matters and Coetzee also wants to “hear his views”.
Smal said last week that he wants to see WP and the Stormers play “a winning 15-man game that’s unpredictable. The type of game where players can express themselves”. I would say that is pretty close to what Coetzee is expecting from his players after what he said on Saturday night.
So Smal should get out that coach’s whistle of his. He is the man that can carry Coetzee’s message across to the players. Who knows, maybe then the players won’t be so scared anymore, despite Smal’s imposing presence.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
@BreytonPaulse: You behind on scorebored,but you still kick ball away!whats going on Stormers,my word!
WHO TO FOLLOW
@kevinmus: UCT director of rugby Kevin Musikanth has taken his team to the Varsity Cup final in his first year in charge.
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