BEEN HERE BEFORE: The intense pressure Stormers face is not new to them

rugby22 April 2024 08:42
By:Gavin Rich
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Frans Malherbe © Gallo Images

Stand-in captain Frans Malherbe looked a dejected figure when he sat in front of the post-match press conference following the DHL Stormers’ defeat to the Ospreys, but the pressure his team faces in their quest to win the Vodacom United Rugby Championship is in no sense new to him.

You just have to watch the Supersport docuseries on the last two Springbok World Cup triumphs, either of the two series, to understand just how much pressure is part and parcel of winning big games and significant trophies. Winning silverware is rarely something that comes easily, and what Malherbe faces now is something he has faced both as a Stormers player and as a Springbok.

Following their unexpected defeat to the Ospreys, the Stormers are in a position where they probably can’t afford to lose again if they want to secure a home playoff. That’s four successive games they need to win. It won’t be easy, because among their opponents are log leaders Leinster, who will have been stung by their defeat to the Emirates Lions, who will themselves be a threat when they come to Cape Town for the last game of the league phase.

The Stormers also face two games overseas, starting with the Dragons, before they play what could be a crunch encounter with fellow top-eight contenders Connacht in Galway. It’s not going to be easy, and there is arguably potential jeopardy in three of those four games.

But you could also argue that it is no more difficult than what the Stormers faced when they started their recovery from the disastrous November tour that remains the main reason they are now struggling for a top-eight spot rather than being in the top two or three in the log like they were for most of the first two seasons of the URC.

The Stormers had to win four consecutive URC games to stabilise their challenge in a period stretching from December through to the start of February, including tough derbies against the Vodacom Bulls (home) and then the Hollywoodbets Sharks (home and away). They succeeded in that objective. Yes, three of those games were at home, but they did it, and now they just need to do it again.

To win the competition they probably need to win seven games, something which again wouldn’t be completely alien as a challenge for Malherbe - the Boks had to win six in a row after their opening defeat to the All Blacks in the 2019 World Cup in Japan.


Malherbe didn’t spell it out in as many words, but he did say what everyone was thinking when he looked at what went wrong in the 27-21 defeat to the Ospreys - they fell victim to the same ability to offer gifts to their opponents and play into opposition hands that blighted their November tour. Two of the three Ospreys first half tries were gifts, while the Stormers’ insistence on rushing things and trying to go big with every move enabled the visitors to first stay in the game and then become emboldened when they realised they had a good chance of winning it.

“It’s very frustrating. There are fundamentals in place that give us the license to play the offload or to keep the ball,” said Malherbe. “That was not our plan. It was very frustrating. We must take full ownership, look at ourselves and come back stronger.”

The two-time World Cup winner wasn’t part of the November tour. Doubtless he would have been even more frustrated had he been. Coach John Dobson probably best summed up the problem when he referred to the impact the early parts of the game may have had on his team’s departure from the script, with the initial plan being to take the ball up the middle before trying the fancy stuff.

“I think it was a case of the guys being offered space by the Ospreys defence early in the game and being seduced by that into thinking that tries were there for the taking,” said Dobson.

The space offered early soon closed up, and the Ospreys’ highly physical, swarming defensive effort not only suffocated the Stormers ball carriers it also forced much of their play to happen behind the gainline and while they were back-pedalling. That was the reason for the high number of Stormers passes that ended up rolling along the ground and led to the error rate.


Dobson was in agreement it was the worst home Stormers performance since the loss to the Emirates Lions in the first ever URC game to be played at the DHL Stadium. In fact, he went further than that, he said this performance was even worse than that one in December 2021.

“It was unquestionably our worst performance. We did lose in the first URC game played here to the Lions, but in that game we were utterly dominant in possession,” he said.

“We knew that the Ospreys would fight. They have done some remarkable stuff this season with a small squad. Credit to them, we knew they would fight. But our own performance was just so loose. I am really sorry about that. I can only apologise (to the Stormers supporters). It was so poor.”

It was, and in the end the Stormers were lucky to escape with the consolation losing bonus point that could yet prove crucial in the tight run-in to the end of the league season.

“We have to be good enough to beat the Ospreys at home, even if we make 10 changes,” he said. “That’s part of the project here. That’s a big wake up call for us tonight. When they scored to go 24-14 up, there were still 17 minutes left. I still thought we were going to win this game. For some reason, we changed our style of rugby and forced it. I will give Ospreys credit, we didn’t move them in the scrum, except right at the end, and we couldn’t move them in the maul. That is well done to them… But we coughed up 16 balls.”

As Dobson indicated, there were several first-choice players missing, but the Stormers have been working on their depth and, as Dobson says, that means the under-strength nature of the team cannot be offered as an excuse. Most of the frontline artillery will return to face Leinster on Saturday and a big response to the Ospreys defeat will be demanded by both the Stormers fans and the Stormers coaches.