12 February 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld
CAN STORMERS WEATHER OFF-FIELD DISTRACTIONS?
With the cruel irony of having to weather a backroom storm, the Stormers are in for a rough ride in this year’s Super Rugby tournament.
All the headlines out of Cape Town have been about the power struggle within the management team after former Blitzbok coach Paul Treu, in charge of structured attack and defence at the franchise, accused head coach Robbie Fleck and Paul Feeney, head of unstructured attack and defence, of discrimination.
It came to light in leaked documents from the subsequent independent investigation, performed by law firm Bowmans, that several players were confused as to which of the assistant coaches’ conflicting instructions to follow last season, uncertainty that has only manifested in the off-season.
Fleck, who’s under increasing pressure after his side crashed to an 11th place finish in 2018 after three consecutive semi-final appearances, and Kiwi Feeney were cleared of wrongdoing.
However, Treu still enjoys the support of a faction within the union, to such a degree that president Zelt Marais is backing him to replace Gert Smal as Director of Rugby when the latter’s contract expires in October.
Reports of a player strike and alleged ‘ultimatum’ from DHL, that it would pull out as title sponsor should Treu remain part of the coaching structure, paint a dismal picture.
Official word from the franchise is that these reports are nothing more than unfounded rumours, with Megan Collinicos, Marketing Director at DHL, also denying claims of their involvement in the saga.
That the dilemma takes up so much of this season preview further highlights the discord in the camp and the unavoidable distraction it is for the players, even if they won’t admit it.
Turning the attention to where it should be, the Stormers are filled with world-class players – Springboks such as skipper Siya Kolisi, who’ll lead South Africa at the World Cup, Wilco Louw, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Damian Willemse, Damian de Allende and arguably the most influential of them all, the prolific Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Multi-skilled Du Toit, with his dynamic ability as lock and loose forward, snapped up his second South African Player of the Year award last week after a barn-burning season for the Boks – so perfectly encapsulated in his legendary performance in the victory over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil – and will be a pillar of strength for the Stormers in 2019.
The return of his powerhouse second row partner Etzebeth, who missed all of the 2018 Super Rugby season due to injury, is a massive boost for the side, with the Toulon-bound Bok brute set to bring his bone-crunching brand of physicality in what will be his final year at the Stormers.
In fact, it looks set to be an end of an era with reports of an unprecedented player exodus at season’s end, with over 40 players’ contracts expiring, only around a quarter of whom are expected to remain at the cash-strapped union.
Ex-Baby Boks Juarno Augustus, the 2017 World Rugby Junior Player of the Year, and Salmaan Moerat will bring youthful exuberance and explosiveness to the pack, while fellow former Baby Bok star Willemse will be the key player in the backline.
Adept at flyhalf and fullback, and capable at 12, Willemse has the most important year of his blossoming career ahead of him as he hopes to lock down either the Bok back-up or third-string flyhalf berth after making his full-fledged Bok debut last year. In light of the World Cup, expect fireworks from the prodigious playmaker.
— Wynona Louw (@WynonaLouw) February 7, 2019