Stormers stymied by plodding duo

JON CARDINELLI says that Allister Coetzee needs to face facts: Ricky Januarie and Conrad Jantjes just aren’t good enough to command starting positions.

You could see it on the faces of Coetzee and Stormers captain Jean de Villiers after Saturday night’s game. The Stormers beat the Cheetahs, but the quality of the game was so poor that both Coetzee and De Villiers wore embarrassed looks as they took their seats to front the media.

There wasn’t much to be said in the positive, other than they had obtained the necessary four log points. Mission accomplished. Or not.

They said that there was no excuse for such a poor performance. You have to wonder if this utterance was intended to placate the media and public, and if it was made with the hope that after a few more games, the Stormers would hit their straps.

If you’re like me and you find the statement to be rather redundant, you will also be asking what the Stormers are going to do differently in the coming week.

Some may argue that two wins are all that matter, and that you don’t change a winning team, but the reality is that the easier matches are over. This week they’ll face a team ranked two on the combined log, and next week they’ll travel to Loftus Versfeld. The Highlanders and the Bulls will be much tougher to topple than the Lions and Cheetahs.

The Stormers are struggling for synergy, and their handling errors and poor ball security are inhibiting their ability to build attacking momentum. These are new problems that have crept into their game since the start of the campaign, but one thing that has remained consistent is the quality of service at scrumhalf.

Ricky Januarie continues to cost the Stormers momentum by arriving late at the ruck and then taking an age to reach down, pick up the ball and float a pass to his flyhalf. Coetzee went as far to admit Januarie wasn’t at his best against the Cheetahs, and when he spoke about the team lacking energy, he must have had Januarie in mind.

While Januarie troubles defences around the fringes, he no longer has the precision nor the pace to be the key link in a professional rugby team. He’s been shown up by Dewaldt Duvenage in previous seasons, and one wonders what he did in the Currie Cup that made Coetzee and company revise their premier halfback dynamic.

Duvenage was the first choice scrumhalf in 2010, and his distribution, accuracy and kicking game helped the Stormers qualify for the Super 14 final. He complemented Peter Grant, and because the Stormers still had Joe Pietersen on their books, they had some solid kicking options.

They lose a tactical kicking option by starting Januarie, and this in turn places additional pressure on Grant. Conrad Jantjes hasn’t filled the kicking void left by Pietersen, even though he possesses a cannon of a boot. In fact, kicking is just one department where Jantjes has underperformed since coming back from injury in mid-2010.

The serious leg injury that sidelined him for 14 months has had lasting effects. Jantjes shuns the contact situations, he’s lost a lot of pace and no longer offers a counter-attacking threat from the back. The predictability of the Stormers’ back three was exposed by the Cheetahs last week, as Jantjes, Bryan Habana and Danie Poolman made numerous errors and were easily marked when they decided to counter-attack.

The good news for the Stormers is that Gio Aplon is on the mend and should be back for the Highlanders clash. Aplon must start at No 15, as his ability to punish poor kicks with sniping runs from deep will force the Highlanders to think about their tactics. Aplon is also the kind of player who will lend the side some pace, energy, and enthusiasm.

The forward effort needs sharpening, and ball retention is going to be crucial, but the backline is also under pressure to fire. One try in two matches is a damning indictment on the Stormers’ attack, and while they have some potent centres and a good flyhalf, they need to involve a sharp scrumhalf and dangerous fullback if they’re going to maximise their scoring potential.

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