It was another “Close, but no cigar” year for the Stormers in terms of Super Rugby success, but they did manage to make history by becoming the only team ever to top the log without scoring a single 4-try bonus point. They defended like machines and it was mostly via Peter Grant’s accurate boot that they managed to outscore the opposition 14 out of 16 times before they got knocked off their perch by the jetlagged Sharks.
Their star-studded back-line never got going in 2012 and I suspect that this could be chalked up to some positional play confusion. Too many forwards hung around in the backline causing the likes of Bryan Habana, Juan de Jongh and Gio Aplon to start clearing the rucks looking for work. Habana’s pace and finishing skills, de Jongh’s dance moves and Aplon ability to squeeze through non-existing holes cannot be wasted like that.
They’ll need to nip that nonsense in the bud this year if they want to overcome their habit of tripping themselves up in the knockouts.
The off-season saw them shipping some fringe players off to Europe and they used the promotion/relegation situation to their advantage by roping in a handful of dynamic Lions.
Options on attack received a tremendous boost with the arrival of fiery-eyed Jaco Taute and former Carlos Spencer protégé Elton Jantjies. It is evident that some of Spencer’s flair had rubbed off on the lad, but he’ll have a hard time leapfrogging guaranteed goal-machine Grant.
Taute flourished at fullback and his speedy links with the backline already makes them look better when attacking. Another thing that caught my eye during their 57-0 thumping of Boland was the much-improved play of Monty-lookalike, Joe Pietersen, who obviously realised that he had to pull up his socks with a hungry lion at his heels.
Moreover, they’ve promoted a few Western Province players up the ranks and subsequently unearthed a sizable gem in strong-running Damien de Allende. Young Kurt Coleman’s performances during the warm-ups also deserve a mention, especially the little grubbers, chips and cross kicks that resulted in more than one try. Pity he has two accomplished fly-halves to compete with, so I don’t expect him to get much game time unless disaster strikes.
Talking about calamities, every year sees the Stormers having woes in a certain position. Last year it was loose forwards – a blessing in disguise if you take into account that’s how they truly recognised exactly how valuable and versatile a player they have in guerilla-like Siya Kolisi (who scored a hat-trick of tries against Boland).
This year they are scrambling for hookers with Tiaan Liebenberg still struggling with his back and Scarra Ntubeni suffering a shoulder injury in a freak accident during training. That left them with Deon Fourie as the sole specialist, which led to a call for another Lion-on-loan in the form of Martin Bezuidenhout.
Misfortune struck again in that same Boland game when Eben Etzebeth limped off the field, reportedly injuring his ankle again and he’s been ruled out for close to two months. Good news from that match is that Rynardt Elstadt looked like his old self again – don’t forget that a couple of years ago he was also considered to be the next Bakkies Botha. These things are part and parcel of the game and hopefully we’ll see more of Elstadt’s busting runs as I’d pick him ahead of De Kock Steenkamp to partner Andries Bekker – fair warning to Aplon, watch your back and steer clear of the rucks and mauls when Elstadt is near.
Gingerbread boy Steven Kitshoff impressed last year and there’s a fair amount of big fellows around to help him steady the scrum.
The monsters at the back of the engine didn’t stand back for anybody in 2012 and that was without Schalk “The Hulk” Burger and Duane “The Pain” Vermeulen. Now that Schalk is back to captain the ship and Duane there to smash bodies into the ground, I foresee some heated battles at the breakdowns.
They managed to sidestep the ‘chokers’ tag by winning the Currie Cup for the first time since 2001, but they’ll have to go all the way this time to really get rid of it. The addition of that elusive piece of silverware would give them some confidence, but then again, it did nothing for Lions who were champion in 2011. Not that I for one second think the Stormers could possibly suffer the same fate.
Bryan Habana’s move to France has been confirmed, but there’s one thing he yearns to do before hopping on the plane and that is to win the Super Rugby cup with the south coast side. So expect nothing but the absolute best from this flying-machine in his final season on South African soil.
The Stormers are pumped up, backed up and hissing. Might the year of the “water” snake be the season it all comes together for Alistair Coetzee and his charges? A part of me really hopes so. I predict that they’ll top both logs and expect that they’ll have learnt from the priceless lessons they were taught.
by Jackie Smit