Cape Town - The 2016 Super Rugby season saw the Stormers take some bold steps into a new era.
With a new format which featured 18 teams, four different conferences and a new management team of head coach Robbie Fleck, forwards coach Russell Winter and defence coach Paul Treu, the Stormers topped Africa Conference One and qualified for the play-offs seeded third.
Fleck and his team pledged to play fearless rugby in a campaign which would see them pitted against teams from South Africa, Japan, Argentina and Australia, and they managed 10 wins from their 16 games with five defeats and a draw.
The season started with convincing victories against conference rivals the Bulls and the Cheetahs, and they would end the regular season nine log points ahead of the team from Pretoria who were their nearest challengers in Africa Conference One as the Stormers collected their fourth conference title in the last six years.
There were many talented young players who were exposed to Super Rugby in 2016, with props JC Janse van Rensburg and JP Smith, locks Pieter-Steph du Toit, Chris van Zyl and JD Schickerling, loose forward Kobus van Dyk, scrumhalf Jano Vermaak, flyhalves Jean-Luc du Plessis and Brandon Thomson, centre Daniel du Plessis and outside backs Leolin Zas and Scott van Breda all making their Stormers debut.
There were also some stalwarts who played their last Stormers match in 2016, with veteran loose forward Schalk Burger (Saracens), scrumhalves Nic Groom (Northampton Saints) and Louis Schreuder (Koboto Spears), prop Vincent Koch (Saracens) and lock Jean Kleyn (Munster) all leaving the franchise at the end of the season.
All four games the Stormers lost during the regular season (against Sharks, Waratahs, Lions and Bulls) saw them claim bonus points for finishing within seven points of their opponents.
The regular season ended with four consecutive victories as they beat the Cheetahs a second time at Newlands ahead of the June international break, and then claimed bonus-point victories against the Rebels and Force on their tour of Australia before returning to Newlands where they ran in eight tries in a big win against the Kings to secure a home quarter-final.
In their 15 regular season matches the Stormers conceded just 28 tries, which was the least of any team in the competition, and managed to score 49 tries of their own.
The Stormers had the best defensive lineout in the competition, stealing 24% of opposition ball and winning 86% of their own ball.
Having qualified for the play-offs as third seeds, the Stormers hosted the Chiefs in their quarterfinal at Newlands, but were pummelled 60-21 by the two-time champions from Hamilton.
Fleck said that while it was disappointing to lose in the quarter-final, there were many positives in the 2016 Super Rugby campaign which bodes well for the franchise going forward.
“Obviously it is really disappointing and it is going to be a tough one to swallow, but for me as a coach it has been a great experience, I have had good leadership around me and the players have been fantastic in terms of their buy-in,” Fleck told the Stormers’ official website.
“I am certainly excited about what we can do as a group going forward.
“We brought through a lot of talented young players this season who now have a taste of what Super Rugby is all about.
“We have learned a lot in this campaign as a squad and as management staff and we are very motivated to apply those lessons next year,” he said.
Fleck added that it is vital for the squad and management to build on what they achieved this season going forward.
“It takes time to build a team, a culture and a style of play, but we still managed to achieve the goals that we set ourselves at the start of the season by playing a home play-off match.
“We are determined to build on the base that we have created next year. Even though the quarter-final against the Chiefs was a disappointment, there was a lot that we took from that game going forward, and we are looking forward to the challenge of playing against New Zealand teams next year,” said Fleck.
Stormers’ Super Rugby 2016 results:
Stormers 33-9 Bulls (Newlands)
Cheetahs 10-20 Stormers (Free State Stadium)
Stormers 13-18 Sharks (Newlands)
Stormers 33-9 Brumbies (Newlands)
Jaguares 8-13 Stormers (Estadio Jose Emalfitani)
Stormers 46-19 Sunwolves (Newlands)
Lions 29-22 Stormers (Ellis Park)
Stormers 40-22 Reds (Newlands)
Stormers 30-32 Waratahs (Newlands)
Sunwolves 17-17 Stormers (Singapore National Stadium)
Bulls 17-13 Stormers (Loftus Versfeld)
Stormers 31-24 Cheetahs (Newlands)
Rebels 31-57 Stormers (AAMI Park)
Force 3-22 Stormers (nib Stadium)
Stormers 52-24 Southern Kings (Newlands)
Stormers 21-60 Chiefs (Newlands)