JON CARDINELLI says the Stormers’ inability to land the knock-out punch will cost them in the play-offs.
Eight victories have shown why they’re good enough to win the South African conference. Two defeats have shown why they won’t claim the title itself.
They failed to match the tactical kicking exploits of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, and that defeat to the Reds mirrored the defeat to the Bulls in the 2010 Super 14 final. They played themselves into a position to beat the Crusaders last Saturday, but shocking decision making and even worse finishing meant the visitors escaped with a win.
The Crusaders were fortunate to come away with four log points. They went into the match without six All Blacks and lost as many as four players to injury in the first 40 minutes. To win in spite of that handicap was nothing short of incredible.
The achievement is more significant when you consider that they did it at Newlands in front of 49 000 people, the majority of whom were, despite all reports to the contrary, screaming for the Stormers. The Crusaders now know that when the going gets tough, their second and third stringers can be trusted to handle the pressure.
The opposite is true of the Stormers, who unlike the Crusaders boasted a side close to full strength. They lost at home to a depleted Crusaders side that played with more courage than synergy. It was not a case of being taught a lesson by a seven-time champion team. It was a case of the Stormers losing the game rather than the Crusaders winning it.
Trailing 20-14 with 13 minutes to play, you need to take the three points. You have to kick the penalty goal and start again.
Schalk Burger may have felt that the Stormers had the momentum and were on the verge of a breakthrough, and some would even see it as a show of faith in his team mates. But persisting with a decision to kick for touch three times, and ignoring the fact that the opposition has turned you over previously, was insanity.
It was a frantic and thoughtless approach that was consistent with the Stormers’ overall performance. They produced some spectacular linebreaks but just couldn’t find the tryline without knocking the ball on or turning it over. It’s become a trend this season if you remember a few other incidents where a try has been butchered. Those incidents are easy to forget when the scoreboard reflects a win, but harder to ignore after a bad loss.
The Stormers will say that their focus is on the Chiefs this week, but they have to start thinking long-term. What will happen when they arrive in the play-offs? Can they be expected to close out tight matches by finishing strongly and taking the right options when they can’t even do it in the league stage? They’ve proved that they can beat the traditional powerhouses away from home, but they’re yet to exhibit a championship winning mentality.
They need to develop their tactical kicking game, and they need to be more ruthless when they are attacking from the right areas of the field. While progress is required on the pitch, the coaches also have to play their part. The substitutions in the final quarter of Saturday’s game certainly did the team no favours.
Jaque Fourie was subbed because of injury, but what of the others? Bringing Kurt Coleman on at flyhalf and asking him to win the game was unfair to Coleman and Lionel Cronje. Swapping the dependable Dewaldt Duvenage for the erratic Ricky Januarie at a time when you require quick, clean ruck ball was madness. All these decisions served to disrupt the backline at a stage when they needed to be at their most clinical.
The Stormers may have won eight out of 10 games but they are running out of time to progress. They will need to rest their top players at some point (Andries Bekker, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen have played an exhausting amount of rugby) but that may also inhibit their development. It’s going to be a difficult to balance those priorities, but Coetzee and co have to find a way. It will mean the difference between winning the South African conference and winning the tournament itself.