Cape Times – Jean de Villiers said that “hard decisions need to be made” in the aftermath of the disastrous defeat to the Rebels, but it will come too late for the Stormers.
I was pleased to hear coach Allister Coetzee say afterwards that he “takes full responsibility” for the Stormers losing seven out of 11 matches and a lowly 11th position on the log.
It is true that almost everything that could’ve gone wrong for the Stormers this season has gone wrong. It started as far back as the pre-season stage when flyhalf recruit Elton Jantjies, who was expected to breathe new life into the Stormers’ attacking game, lost his father and mentor (and personal kicking coach) Thomas in late January, which meant that he couldn’t play in the two warm-up games.
Then Schalk Burger, having recovered from his knee ligament injury and been appointed captain for 2013, sustained a calf injury in training that has kept him out until now (along with the meningitis).
And just as the Stormers were wrapping up their pre-season against Boland on February 2, Eben Etzebeth landed awkwardly following a lineout and was out for four months until May. The injury list didn’t stop growing, and in fact, grew yet another leg after the Rebels game as Scarra Ntubeni, Pat Cilliers and Deon Fourie went down.
We all know about the bad officiating from referees, assistant referees and TMOs that the Stormers have suffered from, and that still continues. Then there was the massive R230 000 fine for abusing match officials during the Hurricanes game. The team has also been yet again crippled by a defensive mindset.
But Coetzee has failed to make some hard decisions as well, and that has also played a big part in the Stormers’ dismal season. In terms of selection, persisting with Deon Fourie despite numerous mistakes at the lineout has been costly. Yes, he has had quite a few good games at the set-piece this year, but I feel that the damage of missing those lineouts on the opposition’s 22 outweighs the good things he has done.
Andries Bekker eventually squealed “Nee, Brannas!” during the Hurricanes game after yet another throw went over the top on attack. And it’s not only Fourie’s throwing that’s a problem. He concedes quite a few penalties at the breakdowns too, and he knocks the ball on far too often for a player of his stature.
It has been more difficult for Coetzee to drop Fourie as Tiaan Liebenberg and Scarra Ntubeni have been injured for long periods, but even Martin Bezuidenhout should’ve been given a chance much earlier. To move Fourie to flank for the Rebels match was a mistake, as he was also nursing a rib injury.
Bryan Habana’s selection is another case in point. He was also out injured for about six weeks, but his high error-rate should’ve seen him pushed to the bench by now. He is a world-class operator when in form, but his touch has eluded him in 2013.
He has made a number of serious errors, such as shooting out of line on defence, knocking the ball on and failing to deal with up-and-unders on occasion. He is supposed to be the best player in the Stormers backline, but he hasn’t showed it.
Coetzee told me after the Rebels match that Habana’s knock-on in the 11th minute, when he was unable to field an easy kick, was a prime example of the Stormers’ woes this season. “How do you coach that?” Coetzee asked rhetorically.
Yes, you shouldn’t be coaching players to catch and pass at Super Rugby level, but this is not the first time Habana has knocked on an easy ball. He is almost guaranteed to start every game, and that is the problem. Perhaps if Coetzee had dropped Habana after his howler against the Waratahs last week, things could’ve been different.
Joe Pietersen’s goal-kicking is crucial to the team, but he makes a lot of mistakes in general play. But he is sure to be in the team due to his goal-kicking. With Elton Jantjies starting at flyhalf against the Rebels, Gio Aplon could’ve moved to fullback and Gerhard van den Heever could’ve come in at wing.
Captain De Villiers’s insistence on turning down the three-pointers and opting for penalties to be kicked to touch hasn’t worked, and probably cost the Stormers quite a few victories this year. Why didn’t Coetzee instruct De Villiers to opt for the posts against the Rebels?
The match was tight at 14-13 to the Stormers at halftime, yet two minutes after the break, De Villiers turned down a kick at posts. He did it again later with the score at 21-20 to the Stormers. Yes, first prize would’ve been a bonus-point victory, but when the team are not playing well and refereeing decisions aren’t going your way, you take the points in tight games.
So, there have been endless injuries, the officiating has been substandard and the players’ handling skills have let them down. But Coetzee has failed to make several tough calls himself this season, and that has played a major role in a forgettable season. He is regarded as an excellent man-manager, and is popular among the players, but he needed to be the boss when the going got tough. Now, it’s too late. – Cape Times