It has been a good few weeks for the Stormers forwards, and it got even better yesterday when four of their young guns – Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Siya Kolisi and Steven Kitshoff – signed three-year extensions to their current contracts.
The forwards have been dominant in the first two games, with the maul and the scrum their two main weapons. And it has been the new kids on the block – Etzebeth and Kolisi – who have combined with 2011 debutants Kitshoff and Malherbe to help change the Stormers pack into a highly physical unit capable of imposing themselves on the opposition, something that has been lacking in the last few years.
This has seen their stock rise quickly in the market, and despite being contracted to WP until the end of 2012, the young quartet were being chased by the other South African teams. Head coach Allister Coetzee sounded like a relieved man when he announced that the Stormers had secured their group of 20-year-olds.
“I’m very happy that they have made the decision to stay, based on knowing that it’s the right thing for them in their careers going forward,” Coetzee said after practice at the Gugelethu Sport Complex yesterday. “These guys are staying and have signed long-term contracts with Western Province and Stormers until 2015. They are young players who have proven that they are good enough to become Springboks in the next year or two.
“It’s no secret that there are unions out there who are prepared to pay huge amounts of money for these players, and they looked at our players. So, we have moved quickly enough to secure their services. The process has started with the other players. Some guys are contracted for next year already, but those that end this year, we are busy with that process.”
As much as the forwards have impressed, the backs failed to fire against the Sharks and the Hurricanes, and backline coach Robbie Fleck admitted yesterday that his star-studded back division are “too lateral on attack”.
“It is early days, but there are no excuses when you haven’t performed to the level that you wanted to. The backline has also worked incredibly hard, but it just hasn’t come together yet,” Fleck said yesterday.
“We were definitely too lateral in our attack at the weekend and the week before, and those were things we need to work on. We have identified the issues, and looking to correct that. We made a few changes before the competition, and hopefully as we go along, we can become a settled unit, pretty much like Matt (Proudfoot) has done with the pack. We need to get the same backline going out, and get a bit of consistency. But the criticism is justified, and we need to work on it.”
Fleck and Coetzee believe that the biggest problem in the backline has been the lack of continuity due to the late arrival of Peter Grant and the injury to Juan de Jongh. But both are confident that the likes of Jean de Villiers, De Jongh, Aplon, Bryan Habana and Joe Pietersen will soon start scoring tries.
“Last year, we struggled at the start with our general attack. Then we went on tour and we clicked. Our combinations started to work, but we had so many injuries at 10 and couldn’t really hit our straps. This year, everyone is fully fit, and I think it’s just a matter of time before everyone starts gelling again,” Fleck said.
“I am excited about this backline, and the way the forwards are going, it’s great to get some decent ball, and it’s now time for the backs to perform. The exciting part is that for the last few years, the backs have predominantly done well – one game it’s the forwards, the next is the backs – and if both combine to play proper rugby, then we can all sit up and say well done.”
Coetzee said that coaching a team to attack is much more difficult than getting a pack to maul or scrum. “With the pack, it’s mechanical – it’s like a system and easy to get right. There is a policy with the mauling, and you just do that,” he said.
“But I’ve got no policy when a guy is going to sidestep, or what decision he is going to make. Therefore, attack is never easy to coach. It’s also not easy when you have one 10 one week, then it’s a different 10 or 12 the next. Juan de Jongh came in after it was Bryan and Jean. It comes with settled combinations, and working on those areas Fleckie identified.
“We are very happy with our attack plan going forward. It’s not just the attack that will win you the competition. You can look at sides who score a lot of tries, but they tend to concede a lot too. I am of the opinion that, if you score less tries and leak nothing, then we are still better off. For us, it’s always been about the balance in the game.
“Our set piece is functioning well, and that is the platform that we must build on and use. We will also use our defence to enhance our attack. We are really almost there – it’s little decision-making mistakes that we are still not getting right. But with every outing, we will improve.”
Great feeling in Gugs
THE Stormers showed yesterday that they are more than just a rugby team when the entire squad was bussed out to Gugulethu for a practice attended by hundreds of schoolchildren from the area.
The kids screamed excitedly when the likes of Bryan Habana, Siya Kolisi, Gio Aplon and Jean de Villiers got hold of the ball, and they were given Stormers flags and posters to take home, while Habana and others were mobbed for their signatures. Some of the children were also given match tickets to next week’s clash against the Blues at Newlands.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said that his team were happy to spend some time away from their Bellville base. “For us to have a Siya Kolisi and a Scara Ntuben in the Stormers squad and bringing them out to Gugulethu, and for young boys to experience them first-hand, to see them and meet with them, it’s a great thing and a great feeling,” he said.
“As a Stormers team, we don’t just do things for the sake of doing things, but to make an impact on communities. I have never seen school coaches at the age of 13 and 14 who coach under-9 boys. I met two coaches here today, from Bonga Primary School, and for that boy to speak to one of the Stormers players is fantastic. This is something that is close to our hearts, to make sure that the Stormers are felt in all communities.” – Cape Times