Stormers’ slow and steady decline

2014-04-13 15:00

Gradual regression has been the theme of the Stormers’ Super Rugby season. They’ve now lost five consecutive games, making it six out of seven for this season.

In the past two seasons, they have lost more games (12) than they did in three seasons of qualifying for play-offs (10) between 2010 and 2012.

Their muddle has not been because of an inability to keep teams out, but to breach the whitewash at the other end of the paddock.

Even at their peak four years ago, when they reached the Super Rugby final, constricting defence rather than mind-blowing attacking play was the order of the day.

Although the team went from 36 tries in 2010 to 30 last season, this does not represent a massive decrease, but in the intervening seasons they registered 33 and 28 respectively, which was enough to get them into the semifinals.

But that left them in the bottom third of teams in terms of try-scoring ability. They collected only nine four-try bonus points, an indictment on back line coach Robbie Fleck, who was an excellent attacking centre in his day.

This season, they have scored just 10 tries, the least in the tournament, which explains their placement at the bottom of the combined table. Has their defensive mind-set hampered their try-scoring ability?

Former Western Province flyer and Springbok coach Carel du Plessis says it has.

“The defensive mentality cemented in the 2010 era has shaped how the Stormers approach their attacking platforms. There is a difficulty finding a balance to their game, which has now affected them,” he said.

“If you defend for the better part of the game, your energy levels will be sapped by the time the last 20 minutes of the game comes and there is an inability to lift the intensity.

“The defensive culture has been entrenched to the point where it has become comfortable, and moving away from it is difficult.”

The crowds flocked to Newlands and took the wins by the home team irrespective of the way

they played, but in Du Plessis’ Western Province teams of the 1980s, when they dominated domestic rugby along with the Blue Bulls, attractive was their middle name.

A results- and defence-driven Stormers team has never looked to thrill, just to deliver what is required on the field, with Du Plessis admitting they have not been playing traditional Western Province rugby.

Gert Smal, who coached the Stormers between 2003 and 2005, has come in as director of rugby, but his impact so far has not been noticeable.

Du Plessis said: “The attempt has been there, but many factors have curtailed their ability to return to an attacking game and one of them is not being able to switch to an attacking strategy.

“It is not impossible to return to that, but it is not a change that can be done very quickly. The move has to be gradual. They will have to keep trying and get the players to believe in it.”

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