With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Stormers!
Last Year: After reaching the semi-finals in 2011 and 2012, the Stormers failed to live up to expectations in 2013 and just missed out on the play-offs by finishing seventh. Their campaign started with back-to-back away losses to traditional rivals the Bulls and Sharks but they bounced back with an impressive home victory over the defending champions, the Chiefs, in Cape Town in their third game. The Stormers were very inconsistent during the rest of the tournament and the highlight of their season was a 35-22 bonus-point victory over the Brumbies in Cape Town in Round Five. They also impressed with a 30-13 win over the Bulls at Newlands in their final league match but ultimately their inabilty to wrack up try-scoring bonus points came back to haunt them as they were unable to secure a spot in the play-offs for the first time in four seasons.
This year: The big talking point for the past few seasons, amongst the Stormers supporters and critics, has been the side's inability to score tries. Coach Allister Coetzee has been heavily criticised for the team's conservative style. Although their defence has been difficult to breach, it's been proven in recent years that attacking teams win this competition. The players and coaching staff have indicated that they will be placing more emphasis on attack this season and try to find a balance between their defensive style and a more positive approach.
Senior back-line players like captain Jean de Villiers, Peter Grant and Gio Aplon should play major roles in this department but one can't help but think that this team has worked so hard on their defence, over the past few seasons, that it will take more than one campaign for them to transform into masters of the attacking game. They kick off their campaign away to the Lions before facing the Hurricanes at Newlands. They should win both those games before setting off on their tour to New Zealand and Australia. It won't be easy overseas as they face the Crusaders, Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds - all previous winners of the tournament - on successive weekends. If they can still be amongst the pacesetters after those four games it will set them up nicely for their last 10 games, of which seven will be in Cape Town.
Players to watch: After spending nearly two years on the sidelines, due to injury and illness, Springbok loose forward Schalk Burger will make a welcome return to Super Rugby. Burger returned to action for Western Province in the latter stages of last year's Currie Cup but he appeared rusty and was slightly off the pace. He did, however, show signs of his true calibre when he played superbly for the Barbarians against Fiji at Twickenham last year. If that game is a sign of things to come, Burger will play a major role in the Stormers' campaign this season. His experience will prove invaluable especially on their overseas tour and should start in the back row alongside fellow Springboks Duane Vermeulen and Siya Kolisi. Another player with plenty to prove is fly-half Peter Grant who missed most last year's competition with a serious ankle injury. Amongst the outside backs, keep an eye on flyer Cheslin Kolbe, who will miss the early stages of the tournament with a knee injury. This guy is an entertainer in the truest sense of the word and when he makes an appearance he is sure to get supporters out of their seats with his attacking skills-set.
Noteworthy signings: Demetri Catrakilis (Kings), Manuel Carizza (Racing Metro)
Noteworthy losses: Andries Bekker (Kobelco Steelers), Bryan Habana (Toulon), Joe Pietersen (Biarritz), Gerhard van den Heever (Munster), Dewaldt Duvenhage (Perpignan), Elton Jantjies (returned to Lions)
Prospects: Die-hard supporters of the men from the Cape must be wondering if it's Groundhog Day. So far 2014 is proving to be no different to 2011, 2012 and 2013. There's so much hype about the potential heights this team can reach but, I'm afraid, just like previous years they will fall short again. Unlike 2013, however, they should qualify for the play-offs but the semi-finals will be a hurdle too far.
22 February: v Lions - Away
28 February: v Hurricanes - Home
8 March: v Crusaders - Away
14 March: v Chiefs - Away
22 March: v Brumbies - Away
29 March: v Reds - Away
5 April: v Waratahs - Home
19 April: v Lions - Home
26 April: v Cheetahs - Away
3 May: v Highlanders - Home
10 May: v Bulls - Away
17 May: v Western Force - Home
24 May: v Cheetahs - Home
31 May: v Sharks - Away
5 July: v Bulls - Home
12 July: v Sharks - Home
By David Skippers