The Stormers have made one forced change and one tactical move for their game against the Waratahs this weekend.
Coach Allister Coetzee says that Stormers supporters shouldn’t allow a woeful second-half effort against the Cheetahs to overshadow a solid campaign.
“That was probably the poorest 40 minutes of rugby we have played,” Coetzee said after the Stormers were outscored 14-0 after halftime at Newlands on Saturday. “But it can’t distract from what we’ve done up to now.”
The Stormers have won nine of 10 matches, including home wins against the Sharks and Bulls, and tour victories against the Highlanders and the defending champion Reds.
Meanwhile, Western Province remain unbeaten heading into this week’s Vodacom Cup final against Griquas in Kimberley.
“No excuses, but you have to look at the positives,” added the coach. “Between the Super 15 and Vodacom Cup we’ve lost a total of one game, and that was in Christchurch against the Crusaders, last year’s finalists.”
Coetzee was, if you’ll excuse the pun, defending the latest round of criticism for the Stormers’ reliance on kick-and-chase tactics, and a sputtering attack.
“Go look and you’ll see that the sides that are attacking the most, are losing,” Coetzee countered.
Indeed, the teams with the lowest kick-to-run percentiles are the Highlanders, Lions and Blues, while the Stormers, Bulls and Crusaders have the highest ratios.
Combined, the former trio have a total of 10 victories, while the latter have 24 wins at this stage of the season.
The Blues and Lions are at the bottom of the standings; the Bulls and Stormers occupy two of the top three berths, on log points.
There is no doubt that the Stormers attack is struggling, but the 11th-placed Waratahs are a shining example of the consequences of trading percentage tactics for a more expansive and populist approach.
The Sydneysiders were the most prolific kicking outfit in 2011 and they finished the season in fifth place.
In the wildcard play-offs, they travelled to Auckland without nine injured Wallabies and were duly dispatched by a Blues side featuring 10 All Blacks.
Chris Hickey, who was vilified by the Sydney media for adopting “boring” percentage tactics not too dissimilar to those used by the Stormers, was replaced by Michael Foley in the off-season. The new coach set about rebuilding a team that had been repeatedly booed at their home ground by fans more interested in seeing tries scored than matches won.
Under Foley, the Waratahs have kicked the ball with 20 percent less frequency this season, and it’s no coincidence that they have won just four of 11 matches after delivering a 63-percent success rate in 2011 with 10 wins from 16 outings.
Foley’s side has yet to equal last season’s average of 25 kicks per game.
Under “boring” Hickey, the Waratahs scored 48 tries (three per match) and condeded 21, but this year’s crop has crossed for 24 tries while giving up 26 visits to their own in-goal area.
Fortunately for Coetzee, he isn’t coaching in Sydney and most of the Newlands faithful appreciate the fact that the Stormers have made as many play-off appearances in the last two seasons as they did in the preceding 13.
Coetzee must urgently address his team’s inability to leverage the attacking talents of exciting open-field runners such as Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh and Bryan Habana, but any divergence from a blueprint that has paved the way for both the Stormers and WP to restablish themselves as serious contenders is not the solution.
Strormers team for Waratahs:
15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Don Armand, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.