CAPE TOWN – The Stormers will need to avoid becoming distracted by off-field controversies if they are to launch a successful 2019 Super Rugby campaign.
In the lead-up to this season, the Stormers have been beset by talks of crisis meetings involving players and management behind closed doors that have resulted from uncertainty around the future leadership structures at the franchise.
Beyond that, the Cape-based union continues to battle ongoing financial difficulties.
Sunday's pre-season hit out at the Cape Town Stadium could provide some clues at what to expect from the embattled Stormers as the focus shifts to on-field matters.
The Stormers could be a settled group provided there is stability at all levels, starting with the administrators and coaching staff.
Ruhan Nel (sevens), Corne Fourie (Lions).
Quite simply, the Stormers have not had the financial capacity to add many new recruits to their squad.
Although veteran Bok hooker Schalk Brits looked set to join the Cape side, that move ultimately fell through due to administrative bungling, while the Stormers also failed to secure the services of Duane Vermeulen.
Former WP president Thelo Wakefield has said they want to back their youth, while the Stormers certainly have no shortage of Springboks in their ranks.
For one, the team will be boosted by the availability of Eben Etzebeth, who missed the entire 2018 season due to injury.
Nizaam Carr (Wasps), Dewaldt Duvenage (Treviso), JC Janse van Rensburg (Grenoble), Jan de Klerk (Canon Eagles), Dean Muir (Kintetsu Liners), Raymond Rhule (Grenoble), Carlu Sadie (Lions, loan), Stephan de Wit (Kings), George Whitehead (Griquas), Eduard Zandberg (released).
The Stormers have bid farewell to a number of players, with former Boks such as Nizaam Carr and Raymond Rhule heading overseas.
There has been plenty of talk that the Stormers could face an even more alarming exodus after this season, but it now remains to be seen whether they have enough squad depth to make 2019 a year to remember.
The presence of Etzebeth was sorely missed last year. Alongside an influential star such as Pieter-Steph du Toit, the Stormers do boast some serious firepower up front. If Etzebeth can stay fit and in-form, though, it could make all the difference to the Stormers' campaign.
The frontrow stock count among the strongest in Super League and in order to bring the best out them they will need to work in a settled environment.
Predicted finish in SA conference:
The Stormers will undoubtedly come under immense pressure if the drama off the field translates into problematic performances on the pitch.
Last year, the Stormers were woeful away from home, and ensuring they perform better overseas will be a key focus this season. One should expect the Stormers to finish around mid-table, and perhaps third in the SA conference.
African News Agency (ANA)