More questions than answers

Rynard Elstadt
Rynard Elstadt
Breyton Paulse

After establishing themselves as the best South African side by some distance, it was disappointing to see the Stormers bow out of the Super Rugby race like they did.

It wasn’t so much that they lost that was disturbing, but the way they lost – they got bullied by the Crusaders and the visitors were in complete control for most of the game, making it look so easy. From their viewpoint, even though they did better than the other sides by winning their conference and finishing in the top two, the Stormers end the season with more questions than answers.

After making strides in their forward play over the past year or so, they once again got outplayed there in a big match when it mattered most. Of course, the Crusaders have got the better of the forward battle in most of the games they have played this season, but seldom has their dominance been as obvious and as emphatic as it was this past weekend.

In that sense, the Stormers need to recognise where they have fallen down in the big matches where they have lost – against the Bulls a few weeks ago they also came short in the scrums and particularly in the lineouts, and it was the same against the Reds when they suffered their first defeat back in April. Matt Proudfoot has done a great job but he obviously has a lot of work to do.

Not being able to control first phase does obviously have an impact on the attacking game, but it is not just the play of the forwards that requires more attention. As a former Stormers player, it has been alarming to note the lack of flair and attacking enterprise from the Cape team this season.

While they have got their defensive game together and everyone admires them for that, I have to agree with those critics who say that it will only be when they have achieved some balance and got their attacking game right that the Stormers will be able to go further than they have done this season and actually win the title.

It is not all gloomy, for they do have the attacking players – Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Bryan Habana, Juan de Jongh – and maybe it is just a small thing that needs to be put right and suddenly it will click for them. When it does, they could be an awesome force in the competition.

But right now they are a long way behind the Crusaders, as are most of the other teams in the competition. You have to give the Crusaders credit for the way they have overcome enormous odds, including over 100 000 kilometres of travel, to make the final.

If you look at their team and you look at their game though it is easy to understand why they have managed what they have. When you analyse them you realize just what a strong side they are – as an opponent you come up against a team that has a powerful scrum, a strong lineout, who are forceful at the breakdowns, who have a world class tactician at flyhalf, a huge inside centre possessed of freaky skills, and virtually every player outside of him has the X-factor.

It would be great to see the Reds win the final because they have shown what can be achieved if you play as a team. They have two or three super-stars but the rest of the players are mostly no-name brands. They have got to where they have because of team spirit and team-work.

But somehow it is hard to see them beating the Crusaders. The one thing that is on their side is that the Crusaders have to travel, but the Crusaders are just so strong all-round.

From a South African viewpoint the one good thing to come out of the Stormers loss is that Peter de Villiers now has an extra week to work with all the top players. But he also has a heck of a lot to think about for the Crusaders have dished out a rugby lesson to all three of the top South African Super Rugby teams this season. The All Blacks are going to be a formidable challenge at the World Cup.

With the Super Rugby season over I am really looking forward to the Coca-Cola Craven Week which will be played in Kimberley next week (11-16 July). Kimberley is a great venue to stage the school rugby showcase event, and the games will be well supported there.

As always at this level, Free State are sure to be extremely hard to beat, while if past Coca-Cola Craven Weeks are anything to go by we should expect strong showings from some of the teams from the smaller unions such as South Western Districts. The outlying areas continue to provide us with stars of the future and this year will be no different, with scouts from the bigger unions all being in attendance ready to offer places in their rugby academies and in their junior squads. Catch all the action live on SuperSport.

The Powerade Chosen One for this week is Quade Cooper for no individual was more influential this past weekend than he was. The Reds win over the Blues was very much the Quade Cooper show and what a magician he is.

This is the final column for now so I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers and those who have through their responses given invaluable input. Enjoy the World Cup, there is a lot of rugby to still look forward to.

Breyton Paulse is a former Springbok player and is the Powerade "Chosen One" expert columnist

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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