Stormers sit pretty after first phase
DHL Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said he was a little let down by the performance against the Southern Kings at the weekend, but as his team heads into a week’s well deserved break for their first bye he should be elated at how the first part of the season has gone.
Before the Stormers’ Vodacom Super Rugby campaign started there would have been many who would have felt they could come unstuck in their first game against the Vodacom Bulls, who looked stronger on paper, and maybe even against the Jaguares too. Instead the Stormers boast a clean slate, and it says something that their coach can be unhappy with a 41-10 away win on a day that he was testing his squad’s depth with several changed combinations.
And although the bonus point picked up at Mandela Bay Stadium was the first of the season for the Stormers, a closer look at the stats for the Cape team after three matches will show a compelling argument in favour of the massive improvement that has been made to the Stormers’ attacking potency.
Not long ago the Stormers used to be criticised for their inability to get over the whitewash for five pointers, but the six tries scored in Port Elizabeth boosted their tally for the season to 15 across three matches. That is five tries a game, and they have still left points on the table in some games. And it didn’t just start in competition, they also scored nine tries in the final warm-up game against the Lions.
What is encouraging for Stormers fans is that Fleck is far from satisfied, and believes his team could have done more against the Kings.
“I would have liked us to kick on more and there were stages when we could have, but we let ourselves down with errors here and there,” said Fleck.
The coach described the mistakes made against the Kings as teething problems that can be anticipated when a team is aggressively setting out on a new way of playing.
“It’s where we’re going. We are going to put ourselves under pressure with a bit more high risk,” he said.
Were the old bonus point system in place, the Stormers would have banked a full house of five log points in all three matches, which would have given them 15 points. As it is though they are top of both Africa Conference 1 and the combined African conference log.
A high percentage of those tries have been scored by the backs, and many of them have been quite spectacular efforts executed from long range. The inside pass with which Robert du Preez put EW Viljoen away in the buildup to the second try against the Kings and the try scored by SP Marais against the Bulls were just examples of the class that has been added to the Stormers’ game during the off-season.
Even though Leolin Zas was ruled out for the season before it even started, there is plenty of pace in the back three, not forgetting of course that Seabelo Senatla and Cheslin Kolbe were among the players who missed the Kings game. Bjorn Basson’s arrival has also brought an additional option and Dillyn Leyds makes a massive allround contribution in each game he plays, with his ability to slot into the inside channels on attack a big plus for the team.
Marais has been a revelation at fullback, and EW Viljoen even more so at outside centre. Fleck’s decision to mix and match his selections to give young and fringe players an opportunity proved successful, with Damian Willemse, last year’s SA Schools flyhalf, delivering an outstanding performance in his 10 minutes on the field in Port Elizabeth.
Scrumhalf Dan Philips and flank Jaco Coetzee were two other players who got a first opportunity to play Super Rugby off the bench, and they did well, and then there was Dan du Plessis, who showed against the Kings just why so many consider him a big star of the future.
His cousin, Jean-Luc du Plessis, has done well for the Stormers as first choice this season, but Robert du Preez probably gave Fleck something to think about with his performance at flyhalf in Port Elizabeth, a game which also reminded us of the existence of Kurt Coleman. Ruled out of rugby through injury last year, the experienced Coleman is now third in line but is a man who can do a job when called upon.
It does get tougher for the Stormers from here and a sequence of games against New Zealand teams is an imposing obstacle on the not too distant horizon but for now they can feel confident because their plan is coming together.