De Wet Barry has been stripped of the Stormers captaincy, in addition to being fined and dropped from the side to play the Chiefs on Saturday.
Coach Kobus van der Merwe deemed the actions of Barry that led to his sinbinning against the Blues, as well as the repeated infringements of Hanyani Shimange, as “unacceptable”, and has followed up with action.
Both Barry and Shimange have accepted fines and have been dropped. Schalk Brits will captain the Cape side in Barry’s stead, and Stormers team spokesperson Anthony Mackaizer confirmed to keo.co.za that the appointment is permanent.
“Kobus informed the squad of his decision this afternoon,” Mackaizer said. “His rationale, as I understand it, is that at this stage in the Super 14 he needs to start looking forward to the Currie Cup and keep in mind continuity. With De Wet likely to be with the Boks, a captaincy change would be required, and Kobus has decided that it suits all parties to go ahead with it now.
“Schalk Brits is thus captain of the Stormers with immediate effect.”
Thus Barry does not even retain the status of squad captain, the scenario when he was last left out of the side to play the Cheetahs.
The decision may be interpreted as decisive, but realistically it is one of panic. Barry does deserve the boot, his disciplinary action in isolation is appalling and the lack of on-field leadership this year has been startling.
Research shows that the Stormers are the worst disciplined team in the history of Super Rugby. Now in the eleventh year of existence, the Stormers top the list of disciplinary offenders with one red card and a remarkable 19 sinbinnings.
Six of the yellow cards have been Barry’s. He has been sent from the field every year since his debut.
The Stormers’ stats compare to the Sharks who have been shown two reds and 11 yellows, the Bulls who have received 12 sinbinnings, the Crusaders who have received eight.
Barry’s disciplinary issues are not a new problem. They have plagued his career and Van der Merwe’s sudden horror at his actions is overly dramatic and naive. It was always going to happen.
Mackaizer’s comments regarding continuity are baffling. The need for a dynamic leader, unlikely to be selected for the Boks, is not a new concern. If it is, Van der Merwe should not be coaching this team. Thus why, in the middle of the away leg of an overseas tour, is the change made?
It is a situation that could have been avoided by appointing either Brits or Luke Watson at the beginning of the year, an action that would have been seen as decisive and laced with foresight.
Now it is one of an individual pressurised to the extent, by director of rugby Mallett and others, that his own squad are unlikely to be able to predict his actions.
Keo.co.za speculated before Brits returned to Cape Town that he was offered the captaincy. It was a story supported by Cats CEO Andy Turner and others, who claimed it an important factor in Brits’ decision to return to Cape Town.
Mallett is a known fan of Brits’ leadership potential. It should not be seen as coincidental that his arrival in New Zealand happened a few days before Barry’s axing.
Making Brits captain has widespread implications. Firstly, Van der Merwe made a statement that it would not be suitable to make Jean de Villiers captain because of upcoming Bok commitments. Then why, exactly, did De Villiers captain the side against the Cheetahs?
Again, the truth probably lies closer to the fact that team management felt the players were not ‘up’ for the Cheetahs encounter. It took a trademark Nick Mallett rocket at half time to inspire the second half fightback.
The move is one of desperation and not inspiration. Brits has long been tagged as a future captain of the squad, although the presence of Hanyani Shimange and the rotation policy supposedly in place meant that he wasn’t the ideal candidate. With Barry tried and failed, De Villiers tried and failed, he is – in Van der Merwe’s eyes – the best of the rest.
The claims of Watson, a born leader who has captained every side he has represented, have again been ignored without reason. How Watson can be placed in the captaincy pecking order behind Barry, De Villiers, Burger and now Brits is scarcely fathomable.
Away from their families, into a third week of a marathon tour, the Stormers’ squad have now seen their leader shafted. The effect on morale would be devestating, especially for players who would have received frantic phone calls from family members monitoring the press back home.
The appointment of Brits will be viewed by some as decisive action. The relegation from Barry from the starting line-up is overdue and a fair reflection of poor form. What is regrettable is the decision came packaged with panic and not composure, and that does not bode well for a side appearing increasingly on a spiral out of control.
By Chris Hewitt