Schalk Brits and Neil de Kock believe the Stormers’ senior core must absorb the pressure that comes with Rassie Erasmus’ shock exit.
The former WP stalwarts were in Cape Town recently with English Premiership champions Saracens, who made the trip down from Watford to train in warmer conditions ahead of their European Cup group game against Biarritz (which they won 20-16). Both players were shocked by Stormers director of coaching Erasmus’ announced resignation last week, which many feel is another critical blow for the Cape franchise ahead of the new Super Rugby campaign. The loss of players like Jaque Fourie (Japan), Johann Sadie, Lionel Cronje and JJ Engelbrecht (all Bulls) were also major setbacks.
However, Brits and De Kock believe the senior players in the squad can help the team overcome the disappointing losses over the off-season, mainly Erasmus’ departure.
‘I spent a week with the Stormers last season as a late injury replacement, so I know that they have a strong senior core to depend on,’ Brits told keo.co.za. ‘Guys like Schalla [Schalk Burger], Jean de Villers, Andries Bekker and Bryan Habana all know what it will take to push through these difficult times and will have to shoulder the responsibility of helping the team progress and settle.
‘When I was here last year, I saw how hard the team worked – and that was thanks to the great management they have here. And because of all that effort, they qualified for the semis (2011) and final (2010). I’m positive the guys will do the hard yards to continue their impressive Super Rugby form they’ve shown over the last couple of seasons.’
‘I think the Stormers will still do well this season,’ continued De Kock, who is busy with his third and last month of his rehab following a broken arm. ‘There has been the loss of couple of important players and now Rassie, but the structures that have been implemented over the last four years are still in place. The current management just needs to continue with the things that have worked well and the senior players need to lead the pack.’
De Kock added that the experience the Stormers have picked up over the last couple of seasons could help them break their title drought this season. The Stormers reached the Super Rugby final in 2010 and the semi-final last year – but the team hasn’t won a competition since WP lifted the Currie Cup trophy in 2001.
‘It’s difficult to point out the exact ingredient needed to take a team all the way to the title,’ said De Kock. ‘But after falling short in the final stages over the last two seasons, the Stormers have gained the experience to know what it takes to win. The senior core will be the best players to advise those guys around them – especially the young ones coming through the system into the senior squad.
‘Saracens went through a similar run, where we fell short of the title. We learnt the hard way but that helped us go all the way last season. It could be a similar story for the Stormers.’
By Gareth Duncan