Stormers 'just not good enough'
There were some harsh words directed at the Stormers players after their narrow 16-14 Vodacom Super Rugby win over the Cheetahs, and this time they didn’t come from the media, but from their captain.
While saying that he was happy with the win that enables his team to keep pace with the Bulls at the top of the South African conference and with the Bulls and Chiefs at the top of the overall log, De Villiers was shaking his head with sheer frustration at how his team nearly managed to blow a 16-0 halftime advantage.
“Make no mistake, we are happy to win, but we have three tough matches coming up against the Waratahs, the Sharks and the Bulls and we are reaching a crucial stage of the season,” said De Villiers.
“If we perform like we did after halftime tonight in those games we are going to be in big trouble. It simply isn’t good enough. Maybe this is a timely wake-up call (after winning most of our overseas games quite easily) but we know we have a heck of a lot of work to do and are going to have to improve significantly on this effort.”
Once again the Stormers’ attacking game came in for some post-match scrutiny and flak. The Stormers have now played 10 games in the competition without picking up a four try bonus point, something that it looked like was on for them when they led 16-0 after half an hour and seemed to be moving into the ascendancy.
But as so often happens with the Cheetahs, they were a different team when Ashley Johnson came onto the field, and Riaan Smit did well enough at flyhalf ahead of the error-ridden Sias Ebersohn for Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske to hint afterwards that Smit might wear the No 10 in the coming games. The Stormers also made life hard for themselves when Rynhardt Elstadt was sinbinned for the knee that made contact with the head of a prone Cheetahs player quarter of an hour into the second half.
That though was not sufficient reason for De Villiers to feel his team could be excused both for their attacking failures and for the way they released pressure on their opponents after halftime, a trend which in truth has been felt before (they led 14-0 against the Bulls but had to rely on a late minute penalty to win the big Newlands derby in March).
“It was a frustrating performance, especially because we dominated them and were getting penalty after penalty in the first half,” said De Villiers.
“But we were poor. We are a Springbok backline, players who have represented South Africa when we have been in form. Tonight we were definitely not worthy of Springbok colours. And if we play like this in the next three weeks, we are in for a rude awakening.”
Coach Allister Coetzee agreed with De Villiers’ assessment and said his team was prepared to take any criticism leveled at it squarely on the chin.
“We were poor, but you must remember this team is still winning. And we are one point behind the conference (and overall log) leaders. So there is still a lot of rugby to played,” said Coetzee.
“We understand where we have to brush up and we are trying our best to get there. The things that are going wrong are things we can fix. We will leave no stone unturned in our endeavour to do that.”
The Stormers host the Waratahs at Newlands on Saturday before heading to the Shark Tank the following week for the return derby against their coastal rivals, who lost in Cape Town earlier in the competition only to a last minute Peter Grant penalty.
With the Sharks looking so good against the Western Force this past weekend, De Villiers and Coetzee are right – the Stormers must brush up, and they must do it quickly.