With Super Rugby now just days away, we preview each of the teams in the competition ahead of the new season. Next up, the Stormers.
For the past few seasons there has been plenty of hype amongst Stormers supporters around their team’s chances of winning the tournament but the men from the Cape are yet to attain that goal.
Western Province’s Currie Cup triumph in 2014, the absence of regular skipper Jean de Villiers through injury and coach Allister Coetzee’s departure to Japan at the end of the season means the hype will be even greater during this year’s campaign.
Last Year: Things have regressed steadily in recent seasons and 2014 was an annus horribilis for the men from the Cape. After just missing out on the play-offs in 2013, they spent most of their 2014 campaign amongst the basement dwellers and eventually finished in 11th place.
The campaign got off to a horrific start with a 34-10 defeat to the Lions. In their next match, they secured a narrow 19-18 victory over the Hurricanes in Cape Town before setting off on their overseas tour where they suffered consecutive defeats against the Crusaders, Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds.
Upon their return home there was more misery as they lost to eventual winners the Waratahs, before they eventually returned to the victory trail with a 18-3 triumph over the Lions at Newlands.
Their joy was short-lived as they lost their next match to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and with their play-off hopes gone the team’s management opted to abandon the team’s conservative approach for a more expansive game-plan in the final rounds.
That decision was made too late and although they claimed victories over the Highlanders, Cheetahs, Western Force, Bulls (home) and Sharks (away), there were also losses suffered to the Bulls (away) and Sharks (home) which meant that they finished the season with nine defeats and seven wins.
This year: There should be more optimism in the squad as they will play three of their first five matches at home. They then head on their Australasian tour where they will fancy their chances against the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Western Force but their showing in their third match of the tour – against the Waratahs – could have a huge bearing on their fortunes upon their return to South Africa.
With De Villiers crocked and senior players like Tian Liebenberg, Deon Fourie, Gio Aplon, Brok Harris, De Kock Steenkamp and Pat Cilliers gone, the Cape Town-based outfit has an inexperienced look about them. Their squad depth will be tested and although they have the potential to do well much will depend on the game-plan they use. In the past, their defensive style was difficult to break down but they have now lost the services of defence guru Jacques Nienaber. It will also be interesting to see if the recruitment of former SA and Kenya Sevens coach Paul Treu will provide the necessary impact on attack which was lacking in previous campaigns.
Key Players: The performances of the team’s leadership group will be crucial, especially after the loss of Springbok captain De Villiers, who had a massive influence in his guise as the Stormers’ leader. New captain Duane Vermeulen has proven himself as one of the world’s leading loose forwards and was arguably South Africa’s best player in 2014. It will be interesting to see how the added burden of captaincy affects his form. The support he receives from vice-captain Juan de Jongh and a senior player like Schalk Burger will be important in helping Vermeulen in adapting to his new role and in giving direction to a young squad. The performances of the team’s fly-halves Demetri Catrakilis and Kurt Coleman will also have a major bearing on the team’s style of play. While Catrakilis has an excellent kicking game, Coleman is more of a runner and both will be expected to provide attacking impetus with their respective skill-sets.
Players to watch: Vermeulen will once again be expected to take the fight to the opponents with his superb allround skills. His physicality – on defence and attack – is his main strength but he is also a menace at the breakdowns despite his huge frame.
His back row partner Nizaam Carr will also be keen to continue where he left off in 2014. Carr possesses brilliant ball skills is phenomenal on defence and links brilliantly with his backs. A player who will also be eager to impress is Springbok midfielder Damian de Allende, who spent most of the latter part of the 2014 season on the sidelines after the Boks were withdrawn from the Currie Cup competition.
Players in: Bongi Mbonambi (Bulls), Dyllin Leyds (Western Force), Wilco Louw (Bulls), Vincent Koch (Pumas)
Players out: Jean de Villiers (injury), Tian Liebenberg (retired), Pat Cilliers (Montpellier), Brok Harris (Dragons), De Kock Steenkamp (Ospreys) Gio Aplon (Grenoble), Deon Fourie (Lyon), Peter Grant (La Rochelle), Sailosi Tagicakibau (Wasps), Gary van Aswegen (EP Kings), Stephan Coetzee (Griquas), Michael van der Spuy (Griquas), Tazz Fuzani (EP Kings), Dylon Frylinck (Pumas)
Prospects: So much will depend on the team’s approach. If they back themselves and stick to a game-plan they could surprise some of the more fancied teams. Don’t bet on this happening, however. They will just miss out on the play-offs.
Sat, 14 Feb v Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
Sat, 21 Feb v Blues (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Sat, 28 Feb v Lions (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
Sat, 7 March v Sharks (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Sat, 14 March v Chiefs (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Round Six: BYE
Sat, 28 March v Highlanders (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)
Fri, 3 April v Hurricanes (Westpac, Wellington)
Sat, 11 April v Waratahs (Allianz Stadium, Sydney)
Sat, 18 April v Western Force (nib Stadium, Perth)
Sat, 25 April v Bulls (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Sat, 2 May v Cheetahs (Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein)
Sat, 9 May v Brumbies (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Round 14: BYE
Sat, 23 May v Rebels (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Sat, 30 May v Cheetahs (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Sat, 6 June v Lions (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
Fri, 13 June v Sharks (Kings Park, Durban)