Misfiring backs a Stormers trademark

Keba Mothoagae

You have got to give it to the DHL Stormers. A defeat snatched from the jaws of victory in Sydney followed by a Jekyll-and-Hyde loss in Christchurch. Do loyal supporters not deserve more?

We are all still scratching our heads trying to figure out how they did it. How often do you see a forward pack crunch the chassis of an opposition as vaunted as the Waratahs and Crusaders at scrum time and absolutely bend them into knots at the ruck, before somehow losing the game!

For perspective, the Stormers won 16 out 17 scrums from their own feed against the two, winning seven penalties at the set-piece.

SEVEN! Winning a penalty every second scrum feed is the unshakeable platform for victory at any level of the game, and points to a chronic habit of squander.

The Stormers have had one of the best forward packs in Vodacom Super Rugby this decade, and its staggering that this pack has held fort while the team has slid into the category of also-rans.

Granted, a beneficial conference system inflated their win-loss ratio in recent seasons – Africa 1 had home-and-away games against uninspired Bulls and Jaguares outfits, while the Sunwolves and Kings were there to boost points differential and bonus point columns. But the Streeptruie always make a fist of contests against better opponents, which at times leads to either surprise victories or keeping scores from blowing out in losing causes, which is down to that pack.

This points to a gameplan that has not evolved since the last days of Allister Coetzee’s regressive tenure and Robbie Fleck’s flailing reign since.

That backline – a hopelessly under-coached rabble – ranks among the most directionless I have seen at this level. Yes, there are talented and exciting individuals among the backs who will get your heart racing, but as a collective they do not deliver nearly enough against organised opponents.

It underlines my point about squandering the hard work of the fatties up front.

To no one’s surprise, the slightness of the outside backs is forever a concern, and they were duly outjumped just about every instance their Antipodean opponents sent the ball skyward. Poetically, all four tries in the 28-45 loss to the Saders were scored by forwards from unrelenting brutality in the tight quarters!

Remember the days when the Stormers could tackle a team into submission, helped irrefutably by the fact that the average backline player in those great teams weighed almost 100kgs?

Apart from centres Damian de Allende and EW Viljoen, who in the backline has the physicality (or tenacity à la Ricky Januarie and Gio Aplon) to make a meaningful impact on the competition? I could also go on a tangent about the off-season recruitment policy which could have addressed some of the issues I have pointed here, but that is a story for another day.

My question here for management is, ‘why have none of the chronic issues been addressed?’

The matches against the Jaguares, Waratahs and Crusaders feel like a continuation of the 2014 to 2017 seasons: much ado about nothing despite the whizz-bang-boom nature of Stormers matches. I have never coached in my life, but if I can figure out what is wrong and what is right from a technical standpoint, then what on earth are the powers that be doing!

Some of the points I have made are not a sum of all that is not quite right at the Stormers, but just a clear-cut observation of an environment lacking in forward-thinking and adaptation to forever-changing trends.

Meanwhile, after brainlessly blowing golden opportunities, one more match remains on this wasted tour against the merciless Highlanders.

Hang in there, old Faithful, for it could be a long season.

FRESH TAKE is an initiative to identify, feature and develop talented rugby writers who are not yet part of the mainstream media.

If that sounds like you, send us a sample of a story you’d like to write to info@alloutrugby.com

- Keba Mothoagae

Let's chat

  • Barry Smith

    Fair comment when one considers that they are the only Union with the luxury of a Director plus separate SR and Currie Cup coaches. Other Unions have to cover all three slots with one man. Further, Imported consultant’s, feeders from UCT, Stellies Boland and amongst top Rugby schools in the country. To top it all, the Sports Science Institute on their door step! With all this resource they should be championing the SA cause! Questions must surely be asked?

  • hopeful

    Amazingly you mention their lack of physicality and inability in the backline to front up and break the gainline….

    This was the very same issue with the Springboks…..

    The difference for the bulls last weekend was that their backline finally fronted up and they were physical…..Size counts when it’s used and before every smurf loving critic mouths off consider the facts…

    England, Ireland, Wales & Scotland – average backline player over 6ft and 100kg….whilst their skill set has never been in doubt the major change has been their size and physicality….

    • Jay

      Interesting comment. Which players are the “average backline players over 6ft and 100kg” you are referring to? A quick look over the stats on espn (Hogg 88kg, Russel 80kg, Halfpenny 86kg, Ford 85kg, May 90kg, Brown 93kg) and you would see that the actual average is more like 90kg with only a couple of centres that are 100 and over.

      I get what you are saying though. We have seen small players being knocked over countless times by their larger opposition but we always neglect one thing; rugby is a team sport.

      When a team is well coached they play as a unit where any liability has a backup. Think of Damien McKenzie, as small as they come, but when he is in need to make a big tackle he has a Sam Cane or (had) James Lowe in there to help. Look at the movement of the ball, the short and long passes. The lines that are run. The decoys. Lastly look at the heart. One could clearly see a number of the Stormers players not even attempting a tackle in the latter stages. These are all far more crucial to England’s newfound success then changing the size of their players.

      Going forward I would say that the Stormers need to employ a tackling coach as size is not everything. Look at Tinus Linee he was only 90kg but knocked players back, De Wet Barry was only 94kg and knocked far heavier players backwards. Or even look at Jonny Wilkinson, at 89kg you were always confident that no No8 was going to exploit his channel as he hit them hard at the tackle point.

      • hopeful

        Math below is fairly simple…

        2018 team stats 6 Nations:

        1: Wales – Backs Weight – 682kg.

        2: France – Backs Weight – 651kg.

        3: Ireland – Backs Weight – 665kg.

        4: Scotland – Backs Weight – 674kg.

        5: England – Backs Weight – 639kg.

        I couldn’t agree more that there are smaller players that far outclass larger players…..but one Damian Mc Kenzie doesn’t make a full backline…

        All of the attributes and playing styles you mention are required for the making of a great backline but the reality is our smaller players are still lacking…The Stormers haven’t taken any top homours as far as Super Rugby goes. Whilst watching a player step and break ankles is fun to watch it still hasn’t helped them go all the way…

        Size counts but only when it is well coached and the player actually has the skill set…when was the last time we actually had a backline capable of breaking the gainline or physically imposing themselves…

        9) Fourie Du Preeze
        10) Butch James
        11) Bryan Habana
        12) Jean De Villiers
        13) Jacque Fourie
        14) JP Pieterson
        15) Frans Steyn

        You can probably name a host of players that are under the suggested weight and height….but they are individuals in a backline of sizable players….key word used on your part “Supporting”…..you just can support an entire backline with one physically imposing player, which is basically all the Stormers have at present….

        • hopeful

          “Can’t”….bad typo

  • Peter

    Same old same old…..ignorance by not learning is as pathetic as expecting a different result because of a new season…..wrong recruiting…wrong coaching….wrong approach….shittum continua…..

  • humblepie

    De Allende plays too deep. This then castrade all the players on his outside regardless regardless how talented they might be. His size is irrelevant. Modern teams no longer employ stampkar to gain 3 meter in contact, they employ innovative tactics to find space. There is consensus that this can only be achieved with shallow attack minded back lines. Should Fleck not prescribe to this phylosophy, he will be better off to revert fully back to traditional play and load his full backline with bulky players. Going halfhearted to modern, attacking play is a recepe for disaster.

  • Jack Black

    WPRU has lost the plot and a good deal of fan support, but nothing is being done, or will be done about it. It’s time that the people of Cape Town took to the street to protest the state of rugby in the province. Enough is enough. Wakefield and his board must go – along with Fleck. The city deserves better than that rubbish!

Comments are closed.