Stormers grunt starts up front

MARK KEOHANE writes the emphasis should be on the Stormers forwards finding form and not the lack of form of Elton Jantjies and Gio Aplon.

All the newspaper headlines this week have been about how Saturday is a make or break game for Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies. It is amazing how each match Jantjies, just 22 years-old plays, comes with the pressure that if he doesn’t produce a world class performance his place is under threat. Sharks flyhalf Pat Lambi and Cheetahs flyhalf Johan Goosen don’t suffer similar scrutiny. The three represent South Africa’s Test match flyhalf options, especially with Morne Steyn’s confirmation of a move to Stade Francais. Jantjies deserves similar treatment to Lambie and Goosen.

I have written of the disservice done to Jantjies since the start of the competition and his 52 minutes against the Sharks was as good as what Lambie produced for the Sharks in a match in which there was nothing between the two teams and limited attacking opportunities. The difference is Lambie kicked four penalties and Jantjies wasn’t entrusted with the goalkicking.

Jantjies has a career Super Rugby strike rate of 80 percent and in 2011 produced a record goalkicking Currie Cup final performance, but his four misses in the season opener is seemingly will be held against him all season.

Gio Aplon has also come in for unwarranted criticism because he fumbled a slippery ball in what would have resulted in a probable try against the Sharks. Aplon has received little ball in the first two games, so just how he is in the firing line is beyond me. He has been no worse than Bryan Habana or a struggling and one-dimensional Stormers midfield.

The reality is a back division is only as good as the effort of the pack and the Stormers tight five, collectively, has been poor, which has resulted in the back row being equally ineffective. The knock on effect is that Nick Groom has had little protection at the base of the scrum or at ruck time. Groom’s service at scrumhalf has suffered because of this and this has put additional pressure on Jantjies and the midfield.

In the first two games there was minimal front foot ball for the Stormers halfbacks, so all the pressure should be on the pack to be strong at scrum, effective on their own ball in the lineout and more physical and stronger in the collisions.

The Stormers, in the two defeats, have physically been second and have lost the contact battle at the gain line. To beat the Chiefs this has to change. I believe it will and with the Stormers forwards finding their growl in the first home game of the season, so too will Jantjies find the form of 2012.

If the forwards again take a beating, so will Jantjies and every back outside of him.