CAPE TOWN - So the “tour from hell” has really become the tour from hell. The Stormers have conceded 50 points for the second week in a row - first that 57-24 whipping by the Crusaders in Christchurch, and a 57-14 hammering against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.
And if there was one game they should have used as the cure to that heavy Crusaders hangover, it was this one against the Highlanders because Beauden Barrett and Super Rugby champions The Hurricanes are waiting in Wellington for next Friday’s game. So here are four flaws the Stormers need to correct in order to at least salvage something from this tour and fly back home with some dignity intact.
Inability to finish
How many times did the Stormers make it into the opposition 22 only to have possession cruelly turned over? More times than is acceptable, I’d say. Robbie Fleck’s men looked good for the first 15 minutes or so, but after that, especially in the second half, it looked like the Stormers were severely allergic to the tryline and the way they lost possession painfully close to the whitewash a number of times looked like a very bad reaction.
The Stormers only turned their territorial advantage into points twice - when No 8 Nizaam Carr crossed the tryline for a beautiful team try, and when replacement scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage scored a late five-pointer. But it was the Stormers’ predictability on attack that was one of their downfalls, and the fact they reverted back to excessive use of one-off runners was a big part of that predictability.
But it wasn’t just that, the visitors also didn’t look after the ball properly as they either lost it on the ground or dropped the ball because of sloppy handling. But back to the one-off runners. Come Friday, when the Stormers take on the Hurricanes, one can only hope the Stormers will choose not to return to their pre-historic ways of that kind of play. After all, we saw how it turned out yesterday.
I think I’m going to start labelling the Stormers’ rapid rate of decline from a good performance to a woeful one “The 10-minute Syndrome.” Why? Because that’s how it goes. They look good for the first 10 or so minutes and then things start unravelling badly for them, that is. Early in the game against the Highlanders, the Stormers’ defensive line was actually visible and they made their tackles. Fast forward a few minutes and you see players rushing out of position again and slipping tackles like the ball-carriers were sweating massage oil.
Firstly, I don’t understand how some players still don’t understand the "mark your man" concept. It’s something you shouldn’t be getting wrong in primary school, never mind at Super Rugby level. Wing Cheslin Kolbe was especially guilty of this, while fullback SP Marais can also consider himself a culprit. Their actions led to two tries being effortlessly scored, and Kolbe was part of both. They weren’t the only ones, but that’s not the point. It just shouldn’t happen.
What to do with ball in hand?
If you look at the stats, the Highlanders edged the Stormers in terms of territory (51-49%), but the Stormers had more possession (46-54%) than the hosts. Another puzzling stat showed that the Stormers made more carries (111-131) than the Highlanders, which highlights the fact the Stormers don’t, or didn’t, know what to do with ball-in-hand. Again, they managed to score only two tries as opposed to the Highlanders’ nine, so needless to say the Highlanders did much more with the possession they had. From handling errors to poor decision-making, the Stormers are going to have to start making the right decisions when they have possession, because at the moment it seems like they can’t think clearly and execute well under pressure.
Not aggressive enough at the breakdowns
Again, this is an area where the Stormers looked competitive early on, and that competitiveness faded as the match progressed. They were overpowered by the Highlanders’ physicality and aggression at the rucks, and the hosts’ speed and intensity on the ground were also a mismatch for the Cape side. Fleck has mixed and matched his loose trio combinations, and starting Pieter-Steph du Toit at blindside flank as opposed to lock against the Crusaders and the Highlanders was his way of balancing the back row.
Yes, Du Toit did well in Dunedin in terms of tackles made and his ball-carrying was decent, but it’s not exactly as if he got in behind the Highlanders’ defence any more than Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr or Sikhumbuzo Notshe could. Physically Du Toit can definitely add to the loose trio, but he’s not exactly a prime candidate when it comes to getting to the breakdowns first. And although Fleck has brought Du Toit in at blindside flank over the past two weeks and not to compete for the ball, the Stormers still need someone with the pace and agility to counter the breakdown onslaught from opponents, especially New Zealand opponents.