Super Rugby Preview: Stormers

Date published: February 23 2016

1022.6666666666666x767__origin__0x0_Schalk_Burger_Stormers_Super_Rugby_2015

Before the start of Super Rugby 2016 we take a closer look at each of the sides in the competition. Next up, the Stormers.

In recent years, before the start of the tournament, there's great expectation amongst Stormers supporters as their beloved side go in search of the title.

That search has been a fruitless one, however, as they are yet to lift the coveted silverware as champions. They have won the South African Conference thrice in the last five years but have stumbled in the semi-finals twice (2011 and 2012) and the play-offs last year.

Allister Coetzee has been replaced as head coach by Robbie Fleck, who has promised that the side will change their style of play from a conservative game-plan to an expansive one with an emphasis on 15-man rugby.

It remains to be seen if their new attacking style will have the desired results as they head into the tournament minus the services of former captains Jean de Villiers and Duane Vermeulen whose influence and leadership will be sorely missed.

Last Year: The Stormers kicked off their campaign in style with a fine victory against the Bulls. They followed that up with further triumphs against the Blues, Lions and Sharks but came unstuck against the Chiefs in Cape Town before heading on their overseas tour.

The first match on their trip proved disastrous as they suffered a heavy defeat in Dunedin against the Highlanders and they also went down in their next match to the Hurricanes in Wellington. They bounced back in style by securing a bonus-point win over the Waratahs in Sydney before beating the Western Force narrowly in Perth.

Upon their return to South Africa, they defeated the Bulls at home but then lost in Bloemfontein to the Cheetahs. They then beat the Brumbies, Rebels and Cheetahs before drawing their final league match with the Lions which secured them the South African Conference title.

The Stormers finished third on the overall table which secured them a home play-off against the Brumbies, but they were outplayed in most facets of play and bowed out of the competition after suffering a 39-19 defeat.

This Year: With Vermeulen and De Villiers gone, and Damian de Allende set to miss the tournament's opening rounds due to injury, the Stormers will lack plenty of physicality.

It will be interesting to see how that aspect of the game – or lack thereof – affects their new style of play.

The Stormers will take on the Bulls, Cheetahs, and Sunwolves in the Africa One Conference and, along with the Bulls, will be favoured to top this group.

Three of the Stormers' first four matches will be at home – against the Bulls, Sharks and Brumbies – with their first away fixture being against the Cheetahs in Round Two.

They then head to Argentina to face the Jaguares in Round Five, before returning to South Africa where they will again play three out of four matches at Newlands – against the Sunwolves, Reds and Waratahs – with their away game being against the Lions in Johannesburg in Round Eight.

Of their six remaining matches, three are overseas – against the Sunwolves, Rebels and Force – but interspersed are matches in South Africa against the Bulls and Cheetahs and they will fancy their chances in the final match of their league campaign at home against the Kings.

Key Players: There will be lots of pressure on newly appointed co-captains, Juan de Jongh and Frans Malherbe. The two Springboks' leadership skills will be closely scrutinised as they take over from experienced stalwarts like De Villiers and Vermeulen.

De Jongh has skippered Western Province to Currie Cup success and will be keen to show that he should have led the Stormers last year already – when Vermeulen was preferred to him as captain. Malherbe is an inspired choice as he is a novice in the leadership role at this level. The burly prop will be keen to repay the faith shown in him by thriving as a captain and also cementing his place as the Springboks' first-choice tighthead.

Rookie fly-half Robert du Preez has lots of potential and should get the nod ahead of Kurt Coleman to wear the number 10 jersey. Du Preez made one appearance for the Stormers last year and played a leading role in WP's run to the Currie Cup Final. He enjoys attacking the advantage line but also has an excellent kicking game and fine distribution skills. With his side set to play more expansively, Du Preez will be under immense pressure as he will play a key role in implementing their new game-plan.

Players to Watch: Veteran back-row and Springbok legend Schalk Burger is playing in his final Super Rugby campaign and will want to go out with a bang by winning the tournament for the first time in his illustrious career. The Saracens-bound Bok's experience will prove invaluable, especially in an advisory capacity to his less experienced co-captains.

He will also be expected to lead the charge up front alongside the likes of Nizaam Carr who has big boots to fill as Vermeulen's replacement. Carr is much less physical than Vermeulen but has more flair and links well with his backs.

Prospects: While they should be commended for opting to change from their dour game-plan to a more exciting one, 2016 won't be the year that they reap the rewards from that decision. They should reach the play-offs again but won't pose a serious threat at that stage of the tournament.

Players In: Jano Vermaak (Toulouse), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Sharks), Cornal Hendricks (Cheetahs), JP Smith (Brumbies), JC Janse van Rensburg (Bayonne)

Players Out: Jean de Villiers (Leicester), Duane Vermeulen (Toulon), Steven Kitshoff (Bordeaux), Manuel Carizza (Racing 92), Michael Rhodes (Saracens), Demetri Catrakilis (Montpellier), Patrick Howard (Northampton), Neil Rautenbach (Cheetahs)

Fixtures:

Saturday, 27 February v Bulls (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Saturday, 5 March v Cheetahs (Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein)
Saturday, 12 March v Sharks (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Saturday, 19 March v Brumbies (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Saturday, 26 March v Jaguares (Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires)
Round 6: BYE
Friday, 8 April v Sunwolves (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Saturday, 16 April v Lions (Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg)
Saturday, 23 April v Reds (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Saturday, 30 April v Waratahs (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Round 11: BYE
Saturday, 14 May v Sunwolves (Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo)
Saturday, 21 May v Bulls (Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria)
Saturday, 28 May v Cheetahs (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Saturday, 2 July v Rebels (AAMI Park, Melbourne)
Saturday, 9 July v Western Force (nib stadium, Perth)
Saturday, 16 July v Kings (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)

By David Skippers

COMMENTS