Jumping to the Stormers' defence

Date published: July 10 2012

The Stormers' season may not be too pleasing on the eye, but if it translates into a title, one shouldn't begrudge them savouring the day.

The Stormers' season may not be too pleasing on the eye, but if it translates into a title, one shouldn't begrudge them a savouring trophy kiss.

For too long the Cape Town outfit have left their passionate supporters frustrated with a barren cabinet, either in the guise of their Super Rugby franchise or provincial side Western Province.

The legendary blue and white hooped-side broke an eleven-year trophy drought with their first-ever Vodacom Cup success two months back.

Prior to that, Province last lifted silverware in 2001 when former captain Corné Krige led his men to Currie Cup victory over the Natal Sharks.

Last season's home semi-final disappointment to the Crusaders saw the Stormers falter at the knockout stage, having gone down to bitter rivals, the Bulls, in the 2010 showpiece in Soweto.

Having also previously stumbled at the last-four round in 1999 and 2004, the Newlands team have yet to savour cup glory since the inception of the SANZAR competition in 1996.

So, as Jean de Villiers' troops head into the final round of the round-robin fixtures this coming weekend against the Melbourne Rebels just one point from finishing top of the overall table, why all the hating?

The Stormers have won 13 out of 15 games this season, but it's been their failure – or willingness some might say – to score a four-try bonus point that has many grumbling at their unattractive results.

Super Rugby has the reputation of being a free-flowing, high-tempo tournament that produces a plethora of five-pointers week in, and week out.

Unlike New Zealand's Chiefs, who top the overall standings courtesy of several bonus-point victories, however, the Stormers have adopted a defence-oriented approach over a more attacking blueprint.

The critics, as well as ardent Cape fans, argue that with the likes of Springbok finishers De Villiers, Gio Aplon and Bryan Habana at their disposal, as well as the Cape's history of running rugby, the Stormers should be crossing the whitewash with far more regularity.

These same observers highlight the crowd pleasing feats of Antipodean foes such as the 'Saders and the Reds as the benchmark for sides capable of winning matches without sacrificing anything going forward.

The Cantabrians, the most decorated team in Super Rugby history, are a side accustomed to winning and have forged their style of play over several successful seasons.

For the Queenslanders, last year's tournament triumph over the 'Saders was built largely on the mesmerising exploits of Australia stars Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Radike Samo and Digby Ioane.

As we've seen in 2012, Ewen McKenzie's Reds have had a far tougher going of it without mercurial Wallaby pivot 'King Quade' spearheading their attack.

Without looking to make excuses for the Stormers, coach Allister Coetzee has been bereft of his skipper and Bok tyro Schalk Burger since Round Two due to injury, along with a host of front-line and back-up players throughout the campaign.

One would be hard pressed to question the effect these squad-crippling setbacks have had on the cohesion of Coetzee's preferred starting XV, and subsequently, his game-plans.

Hampered by injuries, coupled with no title-winning pedigree to speak of for more than a decade, it's little wonder the former Bok backline mentor has snapped back at the cynics who have questioned his side's current brand of rugby.

“Recently I read how the Stormers play unexciting, boring, dour rugby,” Coetzee has been quoted in South Africa's media.

“Winning the conference is tougher than (winning) the Currie Cup, because this is where your national players play.

“The pre-season goal was to get into the play-offs. I have to give the team credit by again being the top team in the conference.

“Last year, we played it down a bit, but in a competition as unremitting as this, when you lose top players but still win at Loftus and at the Free State Stadium, you have to give credit.

“What people tend to forget is that it is the final score that matters. That is what we understand.

“We play winning rugby.”

Technically-brilliant but not the most flamboyant player to grace the world-stage, Roger Federer has won a record 17 major tennis titles in his illustrious career.

Seven-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher's resilience made him “statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen”, but not necessarily the most well-loved.

Italy is the second most successful national football team in the history of the World Cup, yet it's the Azzurri's defence rather than their offence which has been at the back-bone of their prosperity.

And let's not forget, it took world rugby's trailblazers, the All Blacks, 24 years to replicate their first World Cup winning achievement – having ground out an 8-7 win over France in Auckland less than 12 months ago.

So, why not cut the Stormers a bit of slack, huh? Because who knows, maybe with a little less pressure to become touchdown kings, they might just be crowned champions.

By Devin Hermanus