First of all, a heartfelt congratulations to the Sharks. A better team, a better Game plan, and a better execution. They came, they saw, they conquered.
The Sharks… this is a team that lost 50% if it’s first 10 matches in this year’s competition, whose coach – by his own admission, thought his job was on the line and a team that in the early stages clearly didn’t have their minds completely on the ball. How they have peaked at the right time!
Yes they looked tired and yes they were tired, again the coach admitted this, but through strength, belief, clever substitutions, a solid game plan and a will to win, this side now find themselves on a plane to Hamilton, and a chance to place a revered cup in their display case for the first time in the competition’s history… and how they deserve it.
Good luck Sharks, go to New Zealand and bring the cup home. The whole country is behind you. There is no provincialism now.
Having said that, and I will leave others to disect the Sharks season, it is time to reflect on the Stormers game and season.
Where did it all go wrong?
Was it the injuries, was it poor coaching, was it the occasion, was it the lack of the right players, or was it a combination of all four?
This is a team which lost in the final in 2010, got through to the semi’s in 2011 after topping the SA conference and coming second in the overall table and again lost in the semi’s after topping the log in 2012. A team, we are told is still developing. Well any more development to make them into a winning outfit, may well see them having to start again, as the team would have retired through old age before then.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not bitter or beat up, I am not so depressed that I need to rant and rave, I just want to disect the the season and find out just why the Stormers have come so close three times in the last three years but have just not been able to cross the final hurdle.
I disagree with some comments that everyone thought the Stormers were going to win this semi final, and that the Sharks had no chance. If we are honest with ourselves, and I think the comments by the Stormers supporters on this site over the last couple of weeks backs up what I am about to say, we all knew we were never going to come out on top this time – it wouldn’t have mattered who we played in the semi’s, we simply didn’t have the game plan to go any further. We weren’t being negative or pessimistic, just honest.
Allister Coetzee took great delight in press conferences during the season when the Stormers won, to point out to his detractors that his side were still winning and surely that is what counts, and yes they were, but somehow, he just seemed to not see the bigger picture that the journalists were trying to point out. A picture in which a scene was painted where the Stormers, whilst probably being the best defensive side in the world, had little else to offer. A side seemingly devoid of ability to cross the try line, and a side seemingly – and from a spectators point of view – devoid of any attacking plan.
Again, don’t get me wrong, the players put their hearts and souls into this match, just as they have done for every match this season. They were, to a man, mortified by the loss. Jean de Villiers visibly upset in the press conference. So you cannot blame it on the players’ lack of effort – that would just be too easy! These guys put their bodies on the line last night and it showed in the bone crunching effort that they put in.
The answer to me, is simple. We just don’t have the ability to make the play. So much so that on Saturday night (as in so many other matches) we reverted to individualism. In some matches it is the individualism that has seen us through, but not this one. One only has to look at Gio Aplon to back up my point. Last night, there wasn’t a single pre-planned move that I can remember. No dummy runners, no slick inside passes, no running off each other to create space and the overlaps. In every attacking move, the players, forwards or backs, just took the ball straight up.
Never was an overlap attempted or manufactured, heck not even a sidestep was tried. They simply ran straight into the opposition. Whilst defence has won the Stormers matches in the past, it just takes one key player to be slightly off form for the system not to work… and this weekend there was one. The culprit was Joe Pietersen, he was woefully out of sorts, that was just the chink in the armopur that the Sharks needed, and they exploited it.
Defence, defence, defence. That is what has defined the Stormers this season. Jaques Nienaber deserves a special mention at this juncture for putting a system into place that has had the rest of the world in awe, literally. It is a system, that when implemented properly, is almost impossible to break through. But like a good safe, it is only brilliant until the code is broken. It has taken nearly two seasons but other teams are beginning to find ways beat the system. Chip kicks, players running off each other, grubbers, etc are all tactics that have been tried against the Stormers, and whilst at first unsuccessful, once perfected, they start to count.
Frederic Michalak utilised these to perfection this weekend. Oh yes these and the drop kick. Not once, but twice.
What I am trying to say is, if other teams are starting to find ways around the Stormers defensive systems and not only that, but start to utilise the same defensive systems themselves, just as the Sharks were doing last night, the playing field for the Stormers is levelled once again… and we need another plan to gain an advantage.
And this, my friends, is where it all falls apart. There simply doesn’t seem to be an alternative approach!
Am I being harsh? Probably!
I am sure that the brains trust of the Stormers are sitting around their trusty computers, in front of blackboards and in conference trying to come up with plans, but they are not converting these to the field, and that is the only place that the fans will see the fruition of any plans. The fans are not though, and with the lack of any meaningful explanation from the coaches, or improvement in the attacking ability of the team over the entire season, we must draw our own conclusions.
I have been to every post match press interview at Newlands this season bar the one where I was on holiday, and the thing that has struck me the most, is what a good politician Allister Coetzee would make. He successfully seems to avoid every penetrating question thrown at him, and Saturday night was no exception. Twice, he made the point that the Stormers were one of three sides (along with the Sharks and Chiefs) that hadn’t regressed as the season progressed, and that THAT was important.
Of course it is important, but we’re not contemplating regression, we’re looking for progression, and that is what is lacking… but Allister Coetzee just won’t admit it. When asked a direct question about the inability of the Stormers to attack – once again, he answered by saying, and I quote, “If you think the kick that Louis Shreuder made towards the end, if you think that we would have had a better chance of scoring out there or having the opportunity to score where we were, I think our kicking game is what normally gives us the territory and when we have the territory we go into attack, and , er, we almost scored towards the end, and a lot of people, when he kicked that kick, said, ‘gee, why are we kicking it away?’ so yes we understand, er, that we’d like to score tries, Jean was over the try line unfortunately he didn’t score, that one was held up, and, er, we got close……”.
I know that was a bit long winded, but whaaaaaaaat!!! What the hell did he say?
It is just gobbledy-gook political speak, and just leaves everyone trying to understand just what the hell he said.
To give Allister Coetzee a bit of credit though, he did say, when asked to qualify his answer, that the problem with Stormers attack was “impatience”.
Whaaaaaaat!!! Just what is that meant to mean – mate? You’ve had a whole season to sort out ‘impatience’, and surely that must be one of the easiest things to figure out.
This is a team which has scored a pitiful 28 tries in 17 matches. This, in a competition where the average is 40 tries per team in as many matches. Surely this can mean only one of four things, as alluded to earlier, either poor players, a poor game plan, poor execution, or poor coaching. Lets break that statement down a bit.
Poor players: Well if it is inability on the players’ part, then we cannot blame them. If they are not good enough, then surely the coaching staff, scouts and brains trust should be finding the best players and buying them, not selling them, as we have been doing over the last couple of seasons.
Poor game plan: Well if this is the problem, we cannot fault the players again. It is the coaches who put the game plans in place.
Poor execution: This means that we have the right players, but that they just aren’t getting it right. The coaches need to implement other methods to get the message through.
Poor coaching: Well then the coaches are the problem.
And this is the point I am really trying to get to in the nicest possible way, and without trying to sound vindictive!
Surely, after three years of being in the position that the Stormers have been in, and not quite making it, they should be looking at the coaching staff.
- The Stormers certainly don’t need to get rid of Jacques Nienaber – that goes without saying – the best defensive unit in the Competition.
- Mathew Proudfoot, to my mind, has worked miracles with the Stormers scrum. One of the areas we have really struggled with in the past, and apart from one or two matches, the front row has stood up very well.
- That leaves Robbie Fleck and the coach himself Allister Coetzee. It is just a personal opinion, but I think that maybe this is where the changes must come for the Stormers in order to improve. Maybe it is time to give John Dobson a chance. Here is a coach who has come through the ranks with the players. A coach who has had success at the different levels that he has coached and a coach that knows the players in the Western Province system like the back of his hand.
Just a thought…. or two…
After Match Press Interviews:
Sharks – John Plumtree
Stormers – Allister Coetzee