I know that I had advocated a tight, conservative gameplan for the Stormers’ trip to the Lions in last week’s column, but I didn’t mean that tight.
Last week I said that the Stormers needed to cut their suit according to their cloth, which amounted to a young, inexperienced backline and a powerful pack, so it needed the forwards to do the hard graft and take even greater responsibility than usual.
But no one would’ve expected the Lions’ no-name-brand pack to stand up and go toe to toe with the Springbok-laden Stormers unit. Where was the fight from the Stormers? Where were the gang tackles from the loose forwards? Where was the direction and focus from halfbacks Louis Schreuder and Demetri Catrakilis?
The Johannesburg side’s ferocity at the breakdowns was unbelievable on the night, especially against hard men such as Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger and Rynhardt Elstadt. The way the likes of Jaco Kriel, Derick Minnie, Stefan Watermeyer and Robbie Coetzee repelled wave after wave of pick and gos, as well as driving mauls from lineouts, was testament to the greater hunger that the Lions possessed.
But what is the point of using a certain tactic over and over again when it is not working? Coach Allister Coetzee admitted to me on Sunday night that the plan was to suck in the Lions defence, and then spin the ball wide. But that never happened.
As much as top players such as Siya Kolisi, Vermeulen, Scarra Ntubeni and Elstadt were all guilty of “white-line fever”, though, Coetzee needed to take control and change the tactics. It’s no point moaning about having had 10 opportunities in the “red zone” and then only having one converted into a try, to Ntubeni, in the first half when you keep doing the same things without reward. There were a few instances when just an extra pass or two would’ve seen the Stormers walk over the tryline.
New wing Kobus van Wyk probably had just two or three proper opportunities to run with the ball, and he showed that he could become a serious attacking force for the Stormers. He has good pace and is a big man, but there is a rhythmical element to his game that sets him apart from other big chunks of meat.
Damian de Allende made some sizable inroads coming in from the blindside wing, and although he is not as quick as Van Wyk, he attracts a lot of defenders that should result in gaps opening up elsewhere.
That blindside move was about the only time that the backline tried to create some form of attacking play, and it must be said that the forwards were way too selfish on the night.
It is be a sad indictment on the Stormers’ senior players that their best-performing teammates at Ellis Park were the youngsters in the team.
Van Wyk was on his Super Rugby debut, having not even played a senior Currie Cup game for Western Province. De Allende made his name last season, but this is only his second full year at the top. Even Michael van der Spuy, also on debut, made most of his tackles and wasn’t one of the chief culprits of the shocking display from the Cape side.
Gio Aplon fumbled his way around the field on Saturday night and had one of his poorest games in a long time, and even captain Jean de Villiers looked like he was trying to do too much on his own instead of getting his players to play as a team.
And where was the grunt of Vermeulen, Elstadt and Burger? Kolisi lacked his usual intensity and enthusiasm around the field, while props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe didn’t make much impact with their ball-carrying compared to hooker Ntubeni.
So, as much as De Villiers said afterwards that “this performance goes 100 percent to the players on the park” – and the players were decidedly off-colour – the coaches also need to take the blame for the decidedly feeble display.
And yes, it was only the first game of the season, so saying that the Stormers are in trouble and that their tournament could be over already is probably unfair. But in the manner in which they lost was the biggest disappointment, and it was against the weakest team in the competition on paper in the Lions, whom the Stormers have never lost to before in Super Rugby.
Now they face a must-win match in just their second week, as they cannot afford to lose home games ahead of a “tour of hell” against the Crusaders, Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds. The Hurricanes, though, made life quite difficult for the high-riding Sharks in Durban at the weekend, and they will pose a major threat at Newlands on Friday night with their all-out attacking approach.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
@Toringlandman (Cheetahs lock, who attempted an ill-advised chip kick against the Lions in round one): For all the forwards in Superrugby trying to chip this weekend here’s my advise. “Kick to land not to hand.” #noneedtothankme
WHO TO FOLLOW
@Kobusvanwyk12: See what the new Stormers wing Kobus van Wyk gets up to in his spare time.
w Follow me on Twitter: @ashfakmohamed