Stormers won’t end trophy drought

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says the Stormers don’t have what it takes to win this year’s Super Rugby tournament.

The Stormers may be the only unbeaten team in Super Rugby but they are looking no better than they did in 2010 and last year, where they relied on defence to get to the play-offs but never had the attacking game to win the tournament.

Defensively the Stormers were again colossal in defying the Lions, but the lack of attacking edge is looking all too familiar for a side whose players draw too much inspiration from making a tackle and not enough from making a break.

Springbok wing Bryan Habana is again turning half chances into points and the set piece is as strong as the team’s defensive desire, but there needs to be greater emphasis on attack if the Stormers are to challenge seriously for their first championship win.

The Bulls are the most complete and balanced of the South African contenders and their ruthlessness is unmatched in this year’s tournament. Twice in five weeks they’ve created the opportunity to demolish the opposition and they’ve been uncompromising in delivering the most lethal of finishes.

The Reds were never going to win in Pretoria. Injury has hurt the Queenslanders’ title defence, flyhalf and playmaker Quade Cooper is hugely missed and the players are finding the wearing of the crown decidedly tougher than the 2011 chase to attain it.

They would never have envisaged conceding 61 points and taking a 53-point beating, and for all the extenuating circumstances the scars of this defeat won’t heal easily. I’d be surprised to see them win the tournament this year. They don’t have the depth to counter the injury situation and so far they haven’t enjoyed the good fortune of last year.

I also can’t see the Stormers winning the title, which doesn’t mean they can’t suffocate the Bulls at Newlands this weekend and score a laboured once-off victory. Home-ground comforts remain an advantage in this tournament, but so do bonus points for scoring four-try wins.

The Stormers will always be tough to beat because their mindset is that of a team that plays not to lose, instead of playing to win. But the manner of victory should no longer be in duping their supporters into believing that the style of play is capable of delivering silverware. It isn’t.

The Bulls are playing with expression and belief, and incumbent Bok flyhalf Morné Steyn has profited from the bulldozing dominance of his team-mates in contact and at the set piece.

Steyn is showing that he can control a game with more than his boot, but the criticism that he has limitations when there is no forward momentum remains as valid as it was a year ago.

He is playing with greater enjoyment than he did a year ago and if his form holds until June, he will start for the Boks against England, with Pat Lambie, Johan Goosen and Elton Jantjies providing options. It has been a long time since the country’s stocks at flyhalf have been this high.

Goosen continues to scamper up the ladder in his first season in Super Rugby, although his decision to end the game against the Crusaders with a kick to touch was a contradiction of his talent. He offers too much as a player to adopt such a defeatist and conservative mindset and hopefully his team-mates gave him a blast at the final whistle.

The Cheetahs, the people’s favourites in New Zealand as much as they are in SA, are still too content with coming second. The same is true of the Lions, who lost again at home.

How long can a team be young? How long can players be commended for their character in a losing cause? How many more Super Rugby excuses for SA’s domestic champions?

Every team suffers injury. Every team battles hardship in this tournament, but there comes a time when a team must be judged on how many games — and not friends — they win.

And that time has surely come for the Lions.

They have the game and the players to defeat the Crusaders in Johannesburg this weekend, just as the Stormers have the mentality to beat the Bulls.

Both results are possible but I am not as convinced of the possibility that the Stormers or the Lions can be potential championship winners.

To convince me that it can be any other way, the Stormers have to change the way they win games and the Lions have to start winning some games. Ditto the Cheetahs and Sharks.

As for the Bulls … don’t change a thing.