Stormers face decisions as stars return
The DHL Stormers have had a timely boost ahead of what is now a crucial Vodacom Super Rugby showdown with the Sharks at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.
Peter Grant and Juan de Jongh are both available for the replay of the Currie Cup final, and on the evidence of the Stormers’ disappointing 25-17 defeat in the Super Rugby opener against the Bulls in Pretoria at the weekend, Grant and De Jongh are two players they can certainly do with.
It is true that the Stormers had hardly any ball to play with, particularly in the first half, but they were not helped at Loftus by the rusty performance of Elton Jantjies. In Jantjies’s defence he was playing his first game of the year after missing the pre-season games because of the tragic death of his father, but his first outing in Stormers clothing did not justify the hype there has been in some quarters about his arrival in the Cape.
Apart from missing his goalkicks he also kicked poorly out of hand, and there was a perception that the Stormers backs might be lining deeper and playing from deeper at Loftus than we have come to expect of them when Grant is present.
Coetzee may well stick with Jantjies on the basis that he deserves a second chance now that he has a game under his belt, but it is going to be hard for him to ignore the claims of Grant, who will start training with the Stormers from Monday now that his Japanese team has ended its season. Grant is already in the Cape as he returned to be at the birth of his child, so he is not going to require any acclimatisation and will be straight into action when the Stormers start their preparations for Durban.
De Jongh missed the Bulls game and the last warm-up fixture because of a hamstring twinge. However, Coetzee says he is now over the injury and will also resume training on Monday. The hero of the Currie Cup final win over the same opponents four months ago, De Jongh was missed at Loftus. Damian de Allende is a young player with a bright future ahead of him and Jean de Villiers has praised his passing game, but that passing wasn’t much in evidence in Pretoria as his first inclination appears not to pass. He also has the tendency to run laterally.
None of those are problems that can’t be ironed out in time, and De Allende could also challenge strongly for a place on the wing, but De Jongh’s skills and experience should be welcomed back for the coastal derby.
The Stormers are under early pressure and they are facing a Sharks team that their coach John Plumtree has said are on a mission to avenge the result of the domestic decider, so Stormers coach Allister Coetzee will want to get his selection spot on. One defeat is no train smash, and the season is so long that even a second loss won’t destroy their Super Rugby hopes, but the Sharks will tell them after their experience last year how difficult it is to come back after starting the season with defeats in two derbies. It happened to the Sharks last season.
Coetzee and skipper Jean de Villiers gave an indication they know exactly how much work needs to be done as they did not pull any punches in their honest assessment of where it all went wrong for them against the Bulls.
“To be honest this was just very disappointing and there really are no excuses. The first half was an embarrassment to the Stormers jersey and I have not seen a performance like this from a Stormers team for a long time,” said Coetzee.
“We can’t look towards excuses, such as that it was our first game and that maybe there was ring rust etc. The reality is it just wasn’t good enough. We made too many mistakes, and it had a snowball effect on other things, spilling over to our first phase play, like the lineouts. At this level you can’t play without possession. In the second half when we did get some ball we showed we can score tries, but we let ourselves down tonight.”
De Villiers was as hard hitting, and didn’t spare himself from criticism.
“We were flat, particularly in the first half. We gave away too many stupid penalties in kickable range, and Morne Steyn was spot on with his accuracy in this game,” said De Villiers.
“We came back well after halftime, but even then we made stupid mistakes, like not handling the kick-offs and letting them back into our own half. The penalties we gave away were really silly. The penalty I gave away was poor. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves. Perhaps most importantly, we have got to look at becoming a team again.”
Those last words might be disturbing for Cape supporters who fear that the Currie Cup win last October may have bred a bit of complacency and eroded a bit of the team ethos and refusal to be beaten that was the hallmark of the Stormers and WP teams last season. Certainly at Loftus it was the Bulls, who have made no secret about how much they worked in the off-season to rectify problems following a poor 2012, who looked the hungrier and more determined team to make a statement.
Are some of the Stormers players still stuck in Currie Cup mode? Well De Villiers appears to think so.
“This game showed us the difference between Currie Cup and Super Rugby,” said the skipper.
“We needed to take a step up but we failed to take that step up. Last year we got points out of every game we played, this year we have played our first game and we didn’t even pick up a bonus point. So I think we’ve definitely taken a few steps backward.”