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Patience needed from Stormers faithful

In the wake of the Stormers’ defeat to the Rebels in Melbourne this past Friday came a reminder of something that perhaps I had forgotten – a lot of people have opinions about rugby matches they haven’t even watched.

That is surely the only way to explain why so many people I have encountered since that game, in trying to explain the seventh defeat in 11 starts this year, have said things like “The Stormers rely too much on their defence”, “The Stormers kicked too much” or “The Stormers have an unimaginative game-plan”.

If those comments had been made the previous week, I might have been able to agree. But those comments coming after the Rebels game suggest that the game wasn’t watched at all, not even in the way that I suspect is fast becoming the trend in Super Rugby, which is the quick-fire view you can acquire through adept use of the PVR.

To those who were at work on Friday and thus didn’t watch the game, let it be said straight out that the Stormers did not lose for the reasons that were forwarded for their losses in previous matches. They lost on Friday playing the game everyone seems to want them to play – in other words, they played a lot more off the flyhalf and were much more adventurous than they had been previously.

Of course, that had been telegraphed as the intention beforehand. The change of halfbacks followed the loss to injury of the big bruising component of the back-row in the form of Duane Vermeulen and Rynhardt Elstadt, and with Michael Rhodes set to be out for a few more weeks, that meant a game adjustment was going to have to be made.

Nizaam Carr did well for the Stormers against the Rebels doing what he does – which is providing the linking type of No 8 game with subtle touches that improved the Stormers’ attacking game. They lost the game but the Stormers did score three tries and were pretty close to scoring a few others only to be let down by the rank poor handling that I am strongly starting to suspect may be attributable just to the loss of confidence that comes with a losing habit.

People talk about a winning habit, which is what the Stormers had for most of last season, something defined by a habit of prevailing in games where you could easily have lost. This season the Stormers have started to develop a losing habit, and there are times where it is almost as if they are looking for ways to lose.

These last two weekends they lost in the dying minutes of the game, and earlier in the season they effectively had their match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein won when they gave it away. Those kind of defeats, where you’ve done everything but win the game, inevitably impacts on confidence, and may be why passes that may go to hand when the team has the confidence of being a winning unit are now being misdirected and dropped.

Those who would like to see the Stormers play a more attacking game should get their wish in the upcoming games because injuries have forced changes to the team that will leave them with little option. Rhodes is still out for a couple of weeks, and Vermeulen and Elstadt might not be back before the end of the competition, so the game adjustment that started against the Rebels is going to have to continue.

Anyway Allister Coetzee, having already vacillated like the wagging tail of a dog this year by starting the year with an intention to play attacking rugby and then reverting to the old template and now going back again to the one he was following in the early weeks, can’t make another about-turn if he wants to retain credibility.

So the Stormers will be playing the rugby the people want for the remainder of the competition. What’s going to be interesting for me is to gauge the reaction if, or when, they lose playing that type of rugby. Are people going to carry on saying they’re too defensive in their mindset even though they’ve clearly abandoned that approach?

It’s going to be interesting, for game adjustments take time to perfect but the Stormers faithful demand instant results. Fortunately one thing the Stormers do have on their side is the fact that a change of template will mean that any anlaysis future opponents have done on them has to be thrown out the window.

It may mean there is an opportunity for some wins early in the cycle, but if they don’t manage it, the Stormers faithful are just going to have to display a lot more patience and understanding than is being exhibited at the moment.

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