Hammering the home blues
31 Mar 2008
The Stormers need to win at home to be serious title contenders.
For the players it will be a week of relaxation. For the coaches it will be one of reflection.
The Stormers, outstanding in their four Australasian matches, have to show similar form at Newlands. Historically it is easier said than done because the team with the best support base in the history of the tournament tends to be shackled by expectation and troubled by the adulation of a public and media that demands they win more at home than they lose.
What should be a fortress has for too long been a charitable venue for visitors.
A mate of mine said the quicker the Stormers move their home base from Newlands to the World Cup stadium in Green Point the better. His view is that there is bad Super rugby karma at the ground and that a new stadium will finally bring reward.
He added that ever since the Stormers threatened a player strike on the morning of their 1999 Super rugby semi-final against the Highlanders the gods of good fortune turned on them and continue to spook them every season.
Winning at home has been tough for the Stormers. Even when Gert Smal and Kobus van der Merwe served as head coaches the Stormers performed better in Australia and New Zealand.
Last year the Stormers were a mess, yet they still won twice on tour and could have had another win.
Winning away from home is not an aberration and this team is not the exception. What will make them different to their predecessors is if they can now dominate the scoreboard at Newlands.
So what’s the solution? Consider it an away game and use the fact that half the squad aren’t from Cape Town and are in fact visitors to Newlands. It was never a home ground to them in their formative years. Treat it like the enemy battlefield now and conquer it.
Current form and the quality of the opposition in the next six weeks favour the Stormers. Then again that might be creating the kind of expectation that seems to be their biggest enemy.
Physically the Stormers were strong overseas. Mentally they have to be stronger when playing in front of family and friends.
The signs are good for the Stormers … no they’re better than good.
The win against the Force was not a surprise and the Force losing at home was not the shock result the Australian observers would have us believe. The Force’s tournament record is better on the road than at the Subiaco Oval. The point is they are a team that gets beaten at home.
The positive of the Stormers win was the absolute domination in all areas of the game. The tight five were strong and the back row unit was able to be more effective because of this. The knock on effect was obvious and with forward momentum the halfbacks started to play like world beaters.
As well as Peter Grant has played in the last four matches I still think the team is better with Tony Brown at flyhalf, Grant at inside centre and Jean de Villiers at No 13.
Grant, direct in his approach and composed on the ball, was very good on tour, while Conrad Jantjes at fullback was equally effective. Where the backs have improved over the last four weeks is in the timing of their pass and the effective use of yardage before making the offload.
Previously they would collect and pass without questioning the mindset of the defender. Now they challenge the defender’s perception of space and depth and force a commitment before making the offload. It sounds simple, but it isn’t because they are one of only a handful of teams in the competition getting it right.
Of the forwards Schalk Burger’s presence has been colossal and Andries Bekker’s contesting of lineout ball and Brian Mujati’s all-round contributions have been closer to exceptional than good.
The Stormers, sixth on the ladder and on the climb, are in a good space.
But there are a few home demons they have to sort out because they can’t afford to get spooked in the next month.
PS: Stormers home record in the last five years (48.5 percent).