Stormers clutching at straws

Rassie Erasmus’s statistical defence serves to confirm the Stormers’ shortcomings rather than suggest they’re making gradual progress.

Talking stats, there’s no getting round the two most prominent figures of the Stormers’ 2008 campaign. Forget the technical jabber. The Stormers have won nil from three, and from that three they’ve scored one try.

The bottom line is the Stormers have regressed. They were playing with less structure at this stage last year, but had managed a solitary win over the Chiefs. They had scored two tries after three games, but the writing was on the wall.

What’s changed in 2008?

Writing in his column for Die Burger, Erasmus presents a few stats intended to confirm the Stormers are on the right path. The Stormers had more possession than the Crusaders, but the bald truth is they struggled to score a single point. The Stormers had more opportunities to breach the defence, but they failed to cross the advantage line with any telling regularity.

Erasmus says the ball was in play for 36 minutes and 29 seconds. The Stormers had the ball for 18 minutes and 47 seconds while the Crusaders hung onto the pill for 17 minutes and 42 seconds. Erasmus concedes his side struggled to do much with this possession (quite obvious when looking at the scoreboard), but attributes the difference in scores to the Crusaders’ ability to cross the advantage line. The Crusaders attacked the Stormers 52 times and only once failed to gain ground. The Stormers ran at the Crusaders defence 60 times and only crossed the gain line on 39 occasions.

What Erasmus doesn’t admit is the foolish manner in which possession was squandered: flyhalf Peter Grant’s kicking straight to the Crusaders back three or the outside backs trying to grubber through when advancing on the Crusaders 22. The Saders defence was tight, but like any side in the world, they’re not impenetrable. Perhaps maintaining the ball and exercising some patience would have been more prudent. It would be interesting to see stats that indicate how many times the Stormers went through more than five phases. If they had hammered it up all night, then you could have given the Saders defence plaudits and the Stormers attack a consolatory pat on the back. But the Stormers were too quick to kick, and struggled to prevent a turnover after taking it through several phases.

The Crusaders will know they failed to reach their potential. They failed to finish off several opportunities. 22-0 is bad enough, but the scoreboard could so easily have read 36-0. And that’s if you’re being kind to the Stormers, as the Crusaders missed more than two try-scoring opportunities due to poor handling in the Stormers 22. Erasmus called them clinical, but a typically clinical Crusaders performance would have seen the visitors rack up 40-plus.

Robbie Deans’s charges may be boosted to know a substandard effort yields such a result, but the coach himself will know the Stormers weren’t as good on defence as everybody claims. Erasmus’s statistics confirm this, as only once did they stop the red tide from breaking the advantage line.

Erasmus is concerned with public negativity as a byproduct of three losses. What’s truly concerning is the expectation of the Stormers public and media to be satisfied with three losses, as the manner of defeat suggests deep-seated problems that will take time to fix.

The solitary try is a concern as the two tries were at this stage last year. Traditionally, the Stormers are the best-running team in South Africa, but currently they are the worst. If you’re not going to believe this column, a quick glance at the Super 14 log will confirm the fact.

By Jon Cardinelli