It was a build­ing year and the Storm­ers achieved no more than what was ex­pected

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

THE Storm­ers’ 2016 Su­per Rugby sea­son ended where it should have been ex­pected to end – de­feat in the quar­ter-fi­nal stage.

There may have been some ar­dent Storm­ers fans who would have been hop­ing that some­how their team would go all the way, but it wasn’t re­al­is­tic. This was al­ways go­ing to be a build­ing year, with a young Storm­ers squad go­ing into the com­pe­ti­tion boast­ing a for­mi­da­ble pack but lack­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at the back.

Their task be­came a whole lot tougher when the ap­pointed first- choice fly­half for the sea­son, Robert du Preez, was in­jured in the sec­ond game. It gave an op­por­tu­nity to JeanLuc du Plessis, but ef­fec­tively the Storm­ers were play­ing with their third-choice fly­half, and Juan de Jongh, one of the co-cap­tains, was gone for the busi­ness end of the com­pe­ti­tion be­cause of na­tional Sevens com­mit­ments.

The Storm­ers also weren’t helped at the back by the in­juries that kept Damian de Al­lende out of the first half of the sea­son and which ar­guably pre­vented him from re­ally re­gain­ing the out­stand­ing form of the year be­fore when he did re­turn. Dil­lyn Leyds was also out in­jured for most of the cam­paign, and one of the best off-sea­son buys, Cor­nal Hen­dricks, was sadly ruled out of the game with a mys­tery ill­ness and never did get to wear Storm­ers colours.

Jano Ver­maak, the scrum- half re­cruit from out­side and ex­pected to play first- choice from the start, also played only spo­rad­i­cally be­cause of in­jury. And like De Jongh, full­back Ch­es­lin Kolbe, so cru­cial to the Storm­ers at­tack­ing game be­cause of his un­pre­dictabil­ity, wasn’t there at the end, also be­cause of Sevens com­mit­ments.

Daniel du Plessis and Huw Jones are both great tal­ents, but this was the first sea­son that they re­ally got thrust into the front­line, and Du Plessis is only just out of un­der-21, as is Le­olin Zas and ditto for Bran­don Thom­son. It shouldn’t re­ally be sur­pris­ing then that the Chiefs made the Storm­ers backs look out of their depth with their quick-tempo play last week.

Be­fore the game it was felt the Storm­ers would have to get more than par­ity out of the for­ward bat­tle if they were to come close to win­ning, and that proved the case. The Storm­ers did look threat­en­ing when they got into at­tack­ing po­si­tions last week, and on that ba­sis, coach Rob­bie Fleck may be en­cour­aged, but the bot­tom line is that while his team scored three tries, the op­po­si­tion scored eight. If there was one fairly en­dur­ing crit­i­cism of the Storm­ers, it was that they too of­ten were pas­sive on de­fence, and at a crit­i­cal mid­dle stage of the sea­son they lost their way a bit when it ap­peared they lacked some­one, ei­ther in the team or on the coach­ing staff, that could be the tal­is­manic lifter of their phys­i­cal in­ten­sity.

The loss to the Bulls at Lof­tus, when they were beaten by a team that boasted lit­tle out­side of phys­i­cal­ity, was an ex­am­ple of the Storm­ers be­ing too flat and pas­sive.

The loss to the Bulls was one of three in big derby matches, and the Storm­ers lost both their games against teams from what was con­sid­ered the stronger of the two African con­fer­ences. It might have been an illustration of just how lop­sided the con­fer­ences were that the Storm­ers still man­aged to win their group by some dis­tance. If the Chiefs could put 60 points over the Storm­ers last week, imag­ine what they might have done to the Bulls.

Due to the lop­sided na­ture of the com­pe­ti­tion, with the Storm­ers only play­ing Aus­tralian teams and be­ing pre­sented with a dream draw, it is hard to re­ally draw a line on their sea­son and de­cide whether it was a suc­cess or a fail­ure. They achieved what they should have been ex­pected to achieve, and no more.

There have ar­guably been im­prove­ments made to their at­tack­ing game, but not enough for ev­ery­one to be con­vinced, and per­haps the most de­press­ing note was in­ad­ver­tently sounded by Fleck when he said af­ter­wards that he was head­ing over­seas in the off-sea­son to learn from Ed­die Jones.

It is the right thing to do, and one of the big Fleck strengths, at least on ap­pear­ance, is that he doesn’t have an ego. If you ask him, he will read­ily ad­mit that he would like to have gone into the sea­son with Jones, the cur­rent Eng­land coach, at his side so that he could learn off him. And if not Jones, he would have been happy to work with the man the ad­min­is­tra­tors didn’t want, John Mitchell.

I think Fleck has proved him­self a ca­pa­ble head coach and hope­fully he will be given the op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue in that ca­pac­ity and grow what he started, but the Storm­ers would have grown more than they have had they boasted some­one on their coach­ing staff like Jones or Mitchell, two men who have ac­tu­ally suc­cess­fully coached the style of rugby that they as­pire to play­ing.

It isn’t a co­in­ci­dence that the most suc­cess­ful South African coach when it comes to play an all-in­clu­sive at­tack­ing game is a man (Johan Ack­er­mann) who learned from a Kiwi, Mitchell. Given that they have widened the gap on their near­est lo­cal ri­vals, the Storm­ers, the Lions ad­min­is­tra­tors might be pleased that they suc­ceeded in putting the Storm­ers off Mitchell. Sadly, the fail­ure to ap­point Mitchell, in at least some ca­pac­ity, meant the Storm­ers might have marked time th­ese past few months more than they might oth­er­wise have done.

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