RE: HALF WAY - Whose horse has bolted and who remains the real deal??
April 12, 2013, 04:22:18
I have given my predictions on the outcome of the games this weekend elsewhere and I have provided reasons for my predictions even breaking it down to various combinations. I stick with my predictions. The problem remains that the style of rugby the stronger franchises are paying are shown up for what has really gone bad. Let me be more explicit.
The team played a style of rugby last year that depends on being competitive up front and based on sound defence. The wins they made was based normally on point difference through penalties - their backline attacking performances were dismal and throughout the season they never managed to get one bonus point through scoring four tries. However, there were always signs that the Stormers could not sustain their winning record and it happened in the semi-final when the travel- tired Sharks beat them with ease.
Now lets get back to this year. I personally think the signs were bad from the start. They lost their warm-up game against the Cheetahs and they lost their first game against the Bulls because ther strongest point throughout last year - their kicking at goal - collapsed completely when Jantjies did not manage to convert anything he aimed at goal. That was followed by a game that can at best be discribed as atrocious against the Sharks and the losses mounted.
Granted they beat the Chiefs in a game that the Chiefs lost by a fluke and they beat the Brumbies - their best game this year. However, there are signs that the Brumbies are not really the strong start they looked like when they played the other Australian franchises - despite their big win against the Sharks - so even that game should be viewed in context. The next loss was against the Cheetahs. In the latter game they got a 7 pointer through the incompetence of the referee - giving them a penalty instead of penalizing them for a serious transgression. They really should not even have qualified for a bonus point in that game.
Lets get down to the actual reasons for the string of losses:-
* Their attacking backline play last year showed serious deficiencies and the situation has not really changed at all this year. They thought that the problem could be fixed by the acquisition of Jantjies - but the latter did not really improve their backline performances at all. Matter of fact it looked worse than last year - bceause their defences disintegrated at major stages during games. A typical example was in the game last Saturday - when a player that has a reputaion for sound defence - De Jongh - missed all the really crucial tackles he was supposed to make.
* The Jantjies situation forced them into playing a weakened backline by bringing in Pietersen to start for the team so as to take care of goalkicking. Although he was mostly successful in that Department it was not really suucessful in both attacking and defensive play.
* Their forwrds blew hot and cold and the absence of crucial players like Etzebeth did not help matters at all.
The question is can the problems encountered thus far this year be fixed and the answer is really it cannot be fixed if the coach persisted with his present selections scenario. Unfortunately the key selections are all wrong. You cannot try and cover for Jantjies' goalkicking collapse by not selecting your strongest potential backline like the Stormers had to do in the games thus far. Jantjies showed some sparks of good play at some stages of the games - but in the end those were cancelled out by bad lapses on his part as well.
There backline defensive structure substantially collapsed and the problem again started off with Jantjies who always had problems in defence against attackes in the channel. It ballooned furhter out in that De Jongh missed crucial tackles in all the games he played in - even when he did attempt to make tackles. In some cases he just did not even attempt to make tackles which at least he should have tried to make.
Can the backline problems be fixed and the answer is yes - provided Grant, Van den Heveer and Habana gets back from their injuries. If that happens the Stormers can pick the following extremely dangerous backline:-
14 Van den Heever,
13 De Villiers
12 De Allende
The question is - will Cooetzee be prepared to take the field with that backline - and the answer is NO. So from a backline perspective a recovery can be regarded as impossible.
Amongst the forwards the return of Etzebeth, Elstadt and Liebenberg are essential. Their scrummaging was weak when Liebenberg and Etzebeth is not around. Fourie looks good in the looser formmats of the game - but he brings nothing to scrummaging and is wickedly poor in line-ou throw-ins.
Overall - can the Stormers recover from the present situation and the answer is simple - only if they make the crucial backline changes and they can get back key forwards at present injured. If Coetzee does not change the disfunctional backline - they are dead and buried and will lose more matches than they win.
The Bulls have a serious problem up front - their props are not strong enough and he hooker situation is not acceptable as well. Their locks are useful - but nothing special. Ludeke persist with a loosie combination that is not really up to standard - he constantly benched their best loosie - Arno Botha. Spies has been up and down like a yo-yo this year.
Morne Steyn at Loftus recovered his goal kicking game - but in away matches there were signs that the goal kicking can become problematic during crucial stages of games. Morne never has brought attacking play to the game and there is no indication that he would change this year. Further out they have Serfotein - but indications are that he is the stand-in 12 and the Olivier will be picked ahead of him in games. In the few games played by Serfontein - he showed that he is their main attacking threat and Engelbrecht looks good when he plays outside of Serfontein. Outside of other players - Engelbrecht looked bog ordinary. Further out - they really have problems on the the wing and at full back - especially Kirchner was atrocious this year.
Another key position is that of scrummie. Despite Meyer's persistence in inviting both Vermaak and Hougaard to his coaching camp - Vermaak is poor and Hougaard is questionable.
Can the deficiencies be fixed? Very difficult - because the tight five is not the strongest around - and Ludeke will have to accept the inevitable - he will have to play Botha as a starter. He will have to keep Serfontein at 12 and replace Kirchner with Visser. And he will have to find a solution at scrumhalf - unless Hougaard shows a massive improvement in skills and ball sense - which went AWOL last year and is not back as yet.
The Sharks only real disgrace was against the Brumbies - where some key deficiencies were clearly exposed or confirmed. The situation is briefly as follows:-
* In their backline for some reason or another Lambie changed his tyle of play and became less attack-minded and more kicking-orientated. Steyn - overweight, slow and unfit - was playing an unacceptable game. As a result the backline performances from an attacking perspective became really poor and the scoring of tries went out of the window.
* Amongst the forwards there was also a problem in the functioning of the hooker and in line out work and tight phazes of the game.
To his credit - Plumtree recognized the problems immediately and he took three basic steps. He replaced Burden as hooker, he brought in Du Toit as lock and he removed Steyn from the critical number 12 position. Especially the return of Bismarck Du Plessis, Alberts and Whitehead from injury will furher strenghen the side and there are signs that the poor performances thus far are a thing of the past and the way forward looks good.
The Cheetahs and the Kings
With their limited player resources - these two teams are performing way above expectations. If the Cheetahs despite the loss of Goosen keep up their present performances and go forward in the same way they have played thus far - they will win more games than they lose.
I am confident that the Sharks will beat the Stormers this weekend and equally confident that the Cheetahs will beat the Bulls.