Stormers will continue with game adjustment
It’s going to be interesting to see in the coming week what DHL Stormers captain Jean de Villiers was referring to when after the defeat to the Rebels he spoke of “hard decisions” needing to be made.
The TMO call that led to the awarding of a penalty try to the Rebels dominated some of the post-match comment in the media, but the Stormers were honest, and maybe even a bit over the top, in their own assessment of the defeat.
De Villiers, coach Allister Coetzee and senior player Bryan Habana (on twitter) all used the word “embarrassment” at some stage in the post-match fall-out.
The Stormers lost 30-21 but the irony is that they are being pilloried by fans in Cape Town who all season have been calling on them to make the game adjustment that they did make in Melbourne.
Those who weren’t at work and were therefore able to watch the rugby should have noticed that the Stormers approach in Melbourne was quite radically different to what it had been the previous week in Sydney, or for that matter in the other two tour matches before that.
The Stormers played a lot more off the flyhalf than they had been doing, they played the wide, possession orientated game everyone has been willing them to play.
As it turned out, and as one might have suspected it would, it meant something was sacrificed, and that was the physically suffocating defence that has been the Stormers strength for so long.
The two legitimate Rebels tries were made to look way too easy in the construction, and the Stormers just gave away too much momentum to a team that took its few opportunities.
This was partly unavoidable, as the loss of two big bruising loose-forwards in Duane Vermeulen and Rynhardt Elstadt in the closing minutes against the Waratahs had already shown what they meant to the Stormers’ system.
It was less Bryan Habana’s error of coming out of the defensive line in the last minutes and more the loss of those two players that led to the last-gasp defeat in Sydney as it was clear in the last 10 minutes that the Stormers had lost their defensive structure.
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
Vermeulen and Elstadt weren’t there in Melbourne so it didn’t require rugby rocket science to figure out before the game that there would be a game adjustment from the Stormers.
Nizaam Carr, who played well in Melbourne, is more the Andrew Aitken type of linking No 8 than the big bruising and physically imposing player that Vermeulen is.
Coetzee’s intention to play a more possession orientated attacking game was further telegraphed ahead of the Rebels match by the selection of the two halfbacks, Louis Schreuder and Elton Jantjies. The flyhalf in particular is a player who doesn’t fit the usual box in terms of what the Stormers expect from a pivot in their regular game-plan.
There is an interesting question to be asked about Jantjies as the Stormers now look forward to five games where results should be secondary to the purpose of building for next season.
It is understood that Jantjies will be heading back to the Lions at the end of the season, so what purpose would be served by him playing in the remaining matches?
Peter Grant says he will be ready to play again in two weeks, and Gary van Aswegen, if he is going to continue to be the alternative Stormers No 10 in 2014, will also offer more to the Stormers in terms of building for the future than Jantjies will.
While Grant is a few weeks away from returning to the playing field, Tiaan Liebenberg and De Kock Steenkamp are expected back in the selection mix for this week’s game against the Reds at Newlands.
Liebenberg’s return is a timely one as Scarra Ntubeni (hamstring) and Deon Fourie (ribs) are expected to be out for a few weeks, thus leaving a gap at hooker.
But Steenkamp’s return to fitness could introduce a headache for Coetzee if he is serious about using the remaining games in this year’s competition to build for the future.
Andries Bekker deserves to play out his last season with the Stormers after the yeoman service he has given the franchise, but there may be merit in resting him for a few games so that Steenkamp and Eben Etzebeth can start forming the combination that will take the Stormers forward.
Whatever the lock, hooker and flyhalf options are, however, for now it appears the Stormers will be committed to stick with the game adjustment that started in the match against the Rebels for the simple reason that the loss of personnel at loose-forward – Vermeulen, Elstadt and Michael Rhodes – has effectively robbed them of any alternative.