A lumbering kicking game held the Stormers to a clumsy 13-6 win against the Cheetahs on Saturday, and coach Allister Coetzee wants to see a turnaround when the SA conference champions host the Rebels at Newlands this week.
“That was our worst kicking performance of the year” the Stormers coach told the Cape Argus yesterday. “Our kicking game has always been a strength, but our execution was poor against the Cheetahs, there were a lot of individual mistakes.”
The Stormers pride themselves on a low-risk approach built on the foundation of impenetrable defence and a well-contested kicking game. Though they have been repeatedly criticised by pundits who rank entertaining play above efficiency, the Stormers have not faltered in their commitment to what wins matches in rugby’s toughest regional competition.
The fact that the Stormers are on the right track is borne out by a record of 13 victories from 15 matches this season, in spite of a rash of injuries to key players such as captain Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen.
It’s no coincidence that the top sides have conceded the least tries, with the second-placed Stormers allowing just 18 visits to their in-goal area, while the log-leading Chiefs and Brumbies (2nd) have had 27 and 28 tries scored against them respectively.
In contrast, the Sharks and Bulls proudly buffed their fingernails on their chests after accumulating 10 bonus points each this season on the back of high-octane attacking rugby.
But these teams now find themselves all of eight log points behind the Stormers – who have a competition-low two bonus points – because they each conceded six losses in pursuit of tries.
Coetzee rightfully remains unwavering in his belief in the adage that “slow and steady wins the race” – not even the prospect of this week hosting a Rebels team that has conceded a competition-high 57 tries will lure the Stormers into chasing tries.
“Nothing is going to change in terms of our preparation, and our objective doesn’t change,” he said. “We always want to get the bonus point, but we first have to go out there, lay a foundation and win the game.
“What I really want is to see an improvement this week, especially in terms of our finishing. On attack, we created even more scoring opportunities (than against the Lions last week), it was just some bad decision-making that let us down.
“Creating try-scoring opportunities is one thing, but finishing them is another. We know that is something we have to get right going into the play-offs where you might only get one opportunity to score and you have to take it.”
Another facet of play that Coetzee and his colleagues will have to address before the knockout rounds is a scrum that has looked vulnerable over the past fortnight.
Frans Malherbe followed up a shaky outing against Lions loosehead JC Janse van Rensburg with an equally unconvincing effort against Cheetahs counterpart WP Nel on Saturday.
Stormers forwards coach Matt Proudfoot’s hands have been tied by the absence of his scrum beasts due to injuries and Springbok call-ups.
“The synergy from the pack is just not 100 percent there,” added Coetzee. “We’re not working through the hit and I think Matt is looking forward to doing a couple of live scrums during the week of the wildcard play-offs.
“You can’t really work on technical issues on the scrum machine, but (in June) we were without Frans and Eben Etzebeth (Bok squad), Steven Kitshoff (Baby Boks), and Andries Bekker (injury rehabilitation), so we haven’t been able to have live scrums for a while.”
The Chiefs, Crusaders and Sharks represent three play-off contenders who boast potent scrum units, and the Stormers may be best served by deploying scrummagers such as hooker Tiaan Liebenberg and lock Quinn Roux for the skirmish against the Rebels in a bid to restore some confidence in the tight five.