But the way the Capetonians imploded to a 31-24 defeat at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday night, it is no surprise the 2022 champions are languishing in 10th position, one point adrift of the Welsh club.
Coach John Dobson could not quite believe what he had just seen afterwards, calling it “by far the worst performance on tour”, which saw them go down to Glasgow (9-20), Benetton (17-20), Munster (3-10) and now Cardiff.
Of course, they are well capable of fighting back and even going on to win it, or make the final, like they did in the first two seasons, but a comedy of errors was alarming on the night.
Backs unable to deliver
While veteran prop Brok Harris celebrated his 400th professional match in fine style with a commendable scrummaging display, it was the backs who were unable to deliver the knock-out blow to a Cardiff side not offering much on attack, apart from utilising giant left wing Mason Grady to punch holes in what was a porous Stormers defence.
Replacement fullback Warrick Gelant produced one superb dummy and offload to put Ruhan Nel over for his second try, but for the rest, the former Springbok speedster had a nightmare last 10 minutes or so as he repeatedly lost the ball on the counter-attack.
When asked by Independent Media if his players were trying to give him a heart attack with the manner in which they threw it away at the end, Dobson said: “That wasn’t a pleasant experience. If we just took what happened in the last minute, we were on attack in the middle of the field and our scrumhalf has a pick-and-go, and we get turned over.
“We come back, kick it, knock it on, scrum... end of game. At that stage, we probably would’ve taken a draw, when I wasn’t thinking about anything else but winning with three-four minutes to go.
“To my mind, Benetton and Cardiff are the two games that we probably identified to win, and we chucked it away – which is very disappointing.
“Cardiff played with real fight. But we were extremely poor. We were absolutely dominant from the start and were 14-0 up.
“But to give seven scrum put-ins in the second half just from us losing the ball in contact for knocking on is just not good enough for the URC level.
“I didn’t expect us to play like that, I must say. It was by far our worst performance on tour, which is disappointing.
“I said in the change-room that I don’t know why we needed to do that (offload in the tackle) – just take the ball through phases and eventually they would crack or we would get a penalty, and then we could go to the corner and have a go.
“But we seemed to want to make Hail Mary’s (passes) all the time – it was really, really poor from us.”
The visitors had a late penalty to win the game with the score at 24-24, but Dobson explained that a “slight breeze” resulted in them deciding to go for touch instead of asking Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu to have a shot at goal – and as it turned out, Cardiff scrumhalf Ellis Bevan produced some acrobatics to keep the ball in play.
Dobson didn’t want to mention Gelant with regards to the handling errors – Clayton Blommetjies also had a late knock-on in the Stormers 22 that eventually led to Cardiff’s winning try by prop Rhys Litterick – but agreed that the matter needed to be addressed.
Next up will be Zebre in Stellenbosch on Saturday, and World Cup Springboks Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse are likely to return from their break.
“Commitment is about guys putting everything in, and effort and all that – which I think everybody’s doing,” Dobson said.
“But commitment to sticking to a plan and looking after the ball may be another element to it, and that’s probably the piece that’s missing.
“There are certain guys who maybe need to smarten up some elements of their game.
“We will have Manie and Damian back this week in two positions – and at flyhalf, we really have struggled, so that will give us a few more options.
“We will have some personnel back and some games at home. We’ve had five games on the road (and one at home), and we will start putting together much better performances.”
Cardiff 31 – Tries: Gabriel Hamer-Webb, Liam Belcher, Mason Grady, Rhys Litterick. Conversions: Tinus de Beer (4). Penalty: De Beer (1).
Stormers 24 – Tries: André-Hugo Venter, Ruhan Nel (2). Conversions: Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (3). Penalty: Feinberg-Mngomezulu (1).