David Moseley

3 stumbling blocks to Stormers' success

2012-07-17 11:05

I’m a fan. A big fan. Every time I swear that I’ll never return to Newlands, I’m back in the bleak stands of that decrepit stadium the following week. I can’t stay away.

But this year has been a challenge. For the first time since the Stormers brand was created I can quite honestly say that I have not enjoyed watching the team progress.

There are those that will cry “winning rugby” in their defence. Yes. Of course. Winning rugby. And their tactics may well work over the course of the semi-final and the final of the Super Rugby tournament.

The Stormers could be champions playing the worst kind of rugby imaginable. And well done to them if they pull it off. But if they are to succeed, there are three stumbling blocks they need to overcome…

(Please note: every time I back my beloved team, they fold hopelessly. This, therefore, is an extreme attempt to reverse the trend).

1 No plan B
The Stormers seem to be operating along the lines of X-man Wolverine’s famous motto – “I’m the best at what I do. But I do isn’t very nice”. The Stormers are top. Statistically, they are the best. But it hasn’t been very nice.

They’ve lost just twice, albeit rather ominously to the two sides that they could face in the next two weeks, the Crusaders and the Sharks, and although they’ve defeated all other comers, every game has been a scratchy, nerve-wracking, fingernail-chewing affair. Why? Because there is no plan B.

If plan A works (defend, defend, defend, hack ahead, hope for intercept) no one can get past the Stormers. But if it goes awry, as it did against the Crusaders, the Stormers are in trouble.

They don’t appear to have the ability to create something out of nothing (Juan de Jongh’s sexy, swaying hips aside). They’ve been playing finals rugby all season, the kind of rugby that wins World Cups. Unfortunately, in the final they’ll be playing the Crusaders (the Bulls don’t have a hope), a team as comfortable with finals stress as John Mitchell is with daggers in his back, or the Chiefs, a side with more than one avenue of attack.

That’s if the Stormers make the final, of course.

2 The Sharks
There’s a lot of ‘if’ here, but it’s food for thought as we go into the play-off weekend. As a Stormers fan, the Sharks scare me. At Newlands the home side eked out a narrow victory in league play. In Durban, despite only losing 25-20, the Stormers were never in it. The Sharks will beat the Reds this weekend, of that I’m certain. Even without Frans Steyn (aka World’s Angriest Rugby Player) and Patrick Lambie, the Sharks are playing the kind of rope-a-dope rugby that baffles the hell out of opposing teams.

First half, they hang off the ropes, looking all the world like a jelly-chinned prize fighter on his last legs and then, miraculously, they appear after halftime and play like world beaters. JP Pietersen is the best wing in business at present, while Bismarck and Willem Alberts are terrifying.

In fact, right now in Queensland, 15 men are crying themselves to sleep, some waking in the middle of the night, screaming “mommy” into the darkness. But it’s not darkness, it’s Alberts’ giant mitt shading the sun and pummeling an Aussie face.

Simply, the Sharks can play thrilling rugby from nowhere. The Stormers can’t. In a tense South African derby, they’ll be the team to come out tops.

3 Expectation
Never have I been more gutted than the day the ‘old’ Men in Black Stormers made a home semifinal against the Highlanders, started with a bang as Breytie dived over, and proceeded to choke like stuffed roasting pigs for the rest of the game. If ever there was a year that was theirs, it was 1999. I’ve never recovered.

Now let’s give credit where it’s due. What this side has achieved is nothing short of remarkable. They are a team packed with youngsters, fielding a hooker at eight, missing wily veterans like Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen and Pieter Rossouw, held together by their Elastoplast captain and hindered by a game plan that takes its toll on the body like no other. Finishing the regular season top of the log is an amazing victory already. But should they reach a home final, things could fall apart.

There are cool heads in Peter Grant and Jean de Villiers, but not much finals experience elsewhere. If their tactics start to unravel in a final against the Crusaders or Chiefs, moments of brilliance will be required, moments that have been few and far between all season.

The expectation from the press, fans and the match day crowd could prove the biggest stumbling block of them all. Finishing top, losing just twice, any side they play in the final will have traveled extensively to get there. The trophy is basically the Stormers, bar the engraving, right?

Either way, Stormers fans, we’re in for a squeaky bum two weeks.  

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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