Different team should mean different approach
The message coming back over the sea from the DHL Stormers brains trust is that nothing much will change in their final Vodacom Super Rugby tour match against the Rebels, but there have been enough changes to the starting team to suggest a change in approach could well be in the offing.
The Stormers made seven changes on Wednesday to the side that lost 21-15 against the Waratahs last Friday.
Some of those were enforced changes, and coach Allister Coetzee spoke about rotation, but regardless of how those changes come about, sometimes changes do force a coach to cut the cloth to fit the suit.
And if you look through the Stormers team as it lines up for the game against the Rebels, what becomes apparent is that it is significantly less equipped to go for the all-out physically dominant defensive game that was the goal in Sydney.
Duane Vermeulen and Rynhardt Elstadt may only be two players, but they are both, and particularly Vermeulen, pivotal to the type of game the Stormers played last week.
For my money it was because Vermeulen was absent, and Deon Fourie had to play No 8, that the Stormers lost the Super Rugby semifinal last year against the Sharks.
They couldn’t apply the physical game that enabled them to beat the Sharks both times they played each other in 2011.
More than that, as Stormers captain Jean de Villiers highlighted in a teleconference from Sydney after the team announcement on Wednesday, the player who has come in as a replacement brings different skills to Vermeulen.
Nizaam Carr is closer to the Andrew Aitken type of linking No 8 than the more physical, robust and direct Vermeulen.
He has the subtle skills that could help unlock the Stormers’ struggling attacking game, although it is also true that you can’t unlock something without the will to do so, and that was what was lacking last week against a Waratahs team that can eat you alive if you offer them too many attacking opportunities.
The Stormers approach then was to offer nothing to the Waratahs, but they made too many mistakes and when you are only advancing the scoreboard in increments of three the opposition only need two try-scoring opportunities to win the game.
But the Rebels are not a team you need to be quite so frugal against as they are not on a par in other aspects of their game with the Waratahs, and the Stormers can afford to be more adventurous against them.
After all, the Sharks put many tries past the Rebels at Kings Park earlier this season, and while they have scored some good ones recently, they still do concede a lot.
So don’t be surprised if the addition of Carr plus the silky handling skills of Elton Jantjies at flyhalf doesn’t coincide with a more aesthetically pleasing performance from a team that has been castigated at home for their lack of adventure last time out.
“Nizaam gets a start and I think he did really well last year when he got his opportunity before he was ruled out with injury,” said De Villiers.
“He will play more of a linking role, as that is the way he plays, which is totally different to Duane. I am really excited about what he can bring to the team.”
Indeed, and excitement to grow the game rather than the pressure of being in a must-win situation should be what drives the Stormers in Melbourne.
There is still talk of a mathematical chance of them coming back into the equation if they win every remaining game, but it might help them if they think of such an outcome as a bonus rather than as a goal, for their high error rate in recent games may be the product of the tension caused by the pressure they have been under ever since they lost their opening two away derbies.
They could easily have won both the last two games and had they done so, they would now be in strong contention in the conference battle and also near the top bracket in the overall log. But they didn’t win, and the focus should switch away from the quest for silverware.
A release of pressure – unlikely though that may seem when you have a media and rugby public that equates rugby failure with what happened at Hiroshima – might just lead to the Stormers delivering where they have failed to up to now.