Cape Town - The Stormers still have a pretty solid core of World Cup 2019-winning Springboks on their books ... but will that be enough for these frequent underachievers to mount a serious assault on Super Rugby this year?
Hurricanes (h), Bulls (h), Lions (a), Jaguares (h), Blues (h), bye, Sharks (a), Jaguares (a), Rebels (h), Waratahs (h), bye, Sharks (h), Chiefs (a), Crusaders (a), Brumbies (a), Sunwolves (a), Lions (h), Bulls (a). Don’t play: Highlanders, Reds.
Their record last season:
Fifth in SA conference, 10th overall (seven wins, eight losses, one draw). Failed to crack finals series.
Five potential strengths:
*Their itinerary is reasonably good, with a nice spacing of byes, a two-game Newlands start (though neither of the Hurricanes or Bulls will be easy-beats) ... plus the inclusion of the vulnerable Sunwolves on their four-game main overseas tour should offer the near-guarantee of at least one win.
*The Newlands factor: it is the Stormers’ emotional final season at the tradition-steeped ground, and several players have already spoken quite animatedly about how determined they are to leave it in style. The swansong should also beef up attendances, especially if the team gets on some sort of roll.
*The confidence a raft of prominent, RWC-triumphant Boks (including captain Siya Kolisi, the recently much-decorated Pieter-Steph du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe and Herschel Jantjies) should infuse into others around them in the Stormers’ mix.
*An almost certainly forceful scrum and rolling maul, considering the amount of quality Springboks who had contributed to the national team’s engine room being such a menacing unit in those departments in Japan, and who will now transfer that oomph into Super Rugby for the Capetonians.
*The prolific amount of X-factor we COULD see from the likely first-choice halfback combination of slippery, alert and opportunistic Jantjies at No 9 and, at pivot, twinkle-toed Damian Willemse who should be more streetwise than before, considering his useful little stint between domestic seasons on Saracens’ books. Remember, though, both remain relatively short of experience as a pairing.
Five possible snags:
*The major surrender of Eben Etzebeth from the second row, after enjoying his services (though there some long injury-related absences, too) for a lengthy stint between 2012 and 2019. This muscle-laden meanie has relocated to Toulon and, although their remaining lock stocks are decent, they will need to unearth a new tight-five enforcer or two if they’re to stand toe to toe with the best when things get a wee bit tetchy …
*A relative lack of depth for new head coach John Dobson to choose from among the outside backs, although the late signature of intelligent, robust Welsh inside centre legend Jamie Roberts (huge compensation for the Damian de Allende vacancy) was a comforting development. There will still be some concern around the fitness of co-midfielder Dan du Plessis, while back-three options could also be limited if the breakdown bug strikes hard. Flyhalf Willemse may be required to shift to No 15 if Dillyn Leyds were to become unavailable for any reason.
*The possible over-expectation on the gnarly pack Springboks at Newlands. All of them are first-time Webb Ellis Cup winners, don’t forget, and it can’t be that easy coming down from the huge high of winning it, and the hype surrounding the various street parades and celebratory binges. It may take a few weeks for some to hit their straps to maximum effect again.
*A particularly taxing New Zealand portion of the overseas tour, as the Stormers face imperious champions the Crusaders at their own Christchurch den and also tackle a possibly reawakening Chiefs, who were third in their conference in 2019 and are two-time past overall trophy winners themselves.
*The issue of harmony behind the scenes (or perhaps lack thereof?). The financial and other strife in WP Rugby has been well documented in recent years, and the power struggle between the amateur and professional arms has seen the former assert itself quite strongly again - not always ideal in the modern landscape of major multinational rugby. Earning the sincerest warmth of the Stormers dressing room won’t be a doddle for president Zelt Marais and other “suits”.
Fabulous, fair, or fallible?
Sport24 verdict: Fair