Following the Stromers capitulation against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last year, Nic Groom has had a tough time of it. Photo by:Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

It was a must-win game for the Stormers against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last year, and they were fast out of the blocks and had a 15-7 lead at halftime.

It was still 15-10 with just over half an hour left, and then came the big game-changing moment – Sarel Pretorius charged-down an attempted clearance from Nic Groom, and scored a vital try to put the Cheetahs back into the lead.

The Stormers eventually lost 26-24 on the hooter to a Burton Francis penalty. But since then, Groom has had to stand back for Louis Schreuder at scrumhalf, and the whole fallout has understandably affected him negatively.

Schreuder was even a surprise inclusion in the Springbok squad for the end-of-year tour to Europe, while Groom’s future was uncertain.

He had a WP contract in place for 2014, though, and a new year is often a new beginning too. And the former Rondebosch Boys product says he will adopt a different mental approach this year, starting with Friday’s warm-up against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth, where he will wear the No 9 jersey.

“To be honest, one of the areas of my game I need to improve a lot on is the mental aspect. Sport is so fickle – you could be so ready and so prepared, but things don’t go your way. But it’s all about how you react to that – controlling the voices you are hearing, controlling the voices you don’t need to hear, and it’s all about keeping yourself in the right frame of mind, and practising and using every opportunity to get better,” Groom said this week.

“From last year, it’s actually everything in my game that I’d like to improve. The goal is to become a total player, whether it’s attack, defence, kicking, passing ... That’s my goal.

“The most important thing is determining your own version of success, and that’s very personal.

“As a player, you can get into a trap where the things you read or the people you talk to and the opinions you hear, they determine whether you’ve done well or not. I think you’re in a very dangerous position as a sportsman if you are in that space. If you understand what is below your standards, then you are only going to improve.

“Any sportsman will tell you that they will have good and bad days, but it’s all about how you are going to react to both scenarios.”

Groom’s best attribute is his quick service from scrums and rucks, and spotting a gap around the fringes. The Stormers often resort to a conservative game that doesn’t suit Groom’s strengths, but he is adamant that he is allowed to bring that zip to the team on the field.

Coach Allister Coetzee said that he was impressed by the team’s attacking play last week against the Bulls, where a number of line-breaks were made. So perhaps there will be a greater emphasis on taking the initiative this year instead of mainly playing off opposition mistakes.

“Definitely (allowed to express myself), that is when I play best, when I do that. That’s how I’ve grown up playing rugby and there is definitely space for that,” Groom said. “It’s all about keeping a balance of course, as we have a game to win and have areas on the field where we like to play. But if there’s space, we’re gonna take it, and when there’s not space, we’re gonna make space.”

But Groom knows the pressure is on to perform as Schreuder is the favourite to be the starting No 9 for the opening Super Rugby game against the Lions on February 22. And following Dewaldt Duvenage’s move to France, it is known that the Stormers are looking to sign another experienced scrumhalf before the tournament starts.

Groom, who will turn 24 the day before the Lions game, feels the entire squad will have to play their part.

“I think it’s good to have competition. But you’ve got to look at it from a point that there are 30 players, and everybody’s got a role to play at some stage. If you can get combinations going, that’s brilliant, but in certain games another combination may be needed that will help us,” he said.

“It’s about being process-driven and not becoming flustered about selections or who’s talking about who. There’s a job to be done. But I definitely want to put in a good performance (against the Kings), put my hand up and just get the team going forward. It’s all about the 22nd of February against the Lions, and about ticking those boxes and really putting the final pieces of the puzzle together.”

The calm before the storm

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said this week that flyhalf Peter Grant, who will only return to the side once his Japanese club commitments are over, is an “immense” presence in the team. Nic Groom explained what makes Grant such a pivotal figure: “Each flyhalf has their own style. But with Peter coming in, he’s an experienced guy and he tends to take care of the scrumhalves, which is quite nice. He’s got a really calming nature, so he’ll just get in your ear and direct the play. Much like most 10s, but what I’m trying to say is that even though he’s been away, it’s not going to be such a big adjustment.” - Cape Times