The perfect storm?
SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW 2020 – TEAM BY TEAM: After a couple of seasons of mediocrity, not much is expected from the Stormers in 2020.
There is a new head coach in the form of John Dobson, who does not have a lot of experience at this level. However, he is known for nurturing young talent and the Stormers will have plenty of that this season.
Despite this, Dobson will be able to call on several Springbok brutes who played their part in a successful World Cup campaign in 2019.
Players like captain Siya Kolisi, World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, as well as props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe were all important cogs in Rassie Erasmus’ World Cup plans.
They will certainly be the foundation upon which Dobson formulates his game plan.
The Stormers have lost the services of Eben Etzebeth (Toulon) and Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Sharks), but they got more than enough muscle amongst a new generation that includes JD Shickerling, Cobus Wiese, Jaco Coetzee, Ernst van Rhyn, Nama Xaba and others to offset that loss.
Dobson’s blueprint for success will not be too far off from that used by Erasmus and the Stormers coach made it clear during the team’s first press conference of the year when he talked about adopting a “very simple” game plan and using the “explosive power” of his pack to subdue opponents.
It’s probably not something many Stormers supporters wanted to hear, after what they witnessed under former coach Robbie Fleck in the last couple of years.
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While the Stormers tried to dominate opponents up front, they were largely unimaginative in open play, especially with their backline.
Maybe 2020 will be the year they finally get the balance right between the forwards and the backline. Hopefully, some of that exciting young talent can flourish with the ball their powerful pack should provide them.
Talking about exciting backs, the spotlight will be on the Stormers’ halfback combination in the form of Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse.
Jantjies, 23, had an outstanding 2019 season, establishing himself as the Stormers’ first-choice scrumhalf before flourishing with the Springboks as back-up to Faf De Klerk.
Willemse, 21, is bursting with potential and talent and could ignite a stagnant backline if he is backed for the No.10 jersey this season and not shuffled around between other positions.
The Jantjies and Willemse combination could be a potential Springbok blend come July if they can produce the performances expected of them.
One area of concern for the Stormers is the midfield. Damian de Allende, who joined the Wild Knights in Japan, was one of the best players at the World Cup and he leaves a big hole in the Stormers midfield.
Wales legend Jamie Roberts could be the man to fill that hole after his signing was confirmed.
There is not much in terms of experience when it comes to the other centres with Matt Moore, Rikus Pretorius, Cornal Smit and Michal Hazner coming into the squad and wider squad respectively. There is Daniel du Plessis as well, but his career has been an injury-plagued one and he will still be on the sidelines when Super Rugby starts.
Ruhan Nel is the most experienced of the centres in the squad, but he failed to make a big impact last year and his services might be split between the Stormers and the Springbok Sevens, who are preparing for the Olympics.
The Stormers will have a good blend of youth and experience in their squad and what could help their cause is that they will play seven of their first 10 games at Newlands before they go on tour at the end of April.
Winning their homes games will put them in a good position before that tour and help them push on for a top-four spot in the overall standings.
South African Conference Placing: First
Player of the Year: Damian Willemse
Rookie of the Year: Rikus Pretorius
Super Rugby Placing: Third
In: Jamie Roberts (from Bath)
Out: Corné Fourie (Gloucester), Michael Kumbirai (Sharks), Lee-Marvin Mazibuko (Viadana), Eben Etzebeth (Toulon), Chris Massyn (Cheetahs), Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Sharks), Marno Redelinghuys (Rugby ATL), Kobus van Dyk (Canon Eagles), Joshua Stander (Suntory Sungoliath), Damian de Allende (Panasonic Wild Knights), JJ Engelbrecht (Sunwolves), Dan Kriel (Lions), Duncan Saal (Cheetahs), Craig Barry (Cheetahs), SP Marais (Canon Eagles), EW Viljoen (Leicester Tigers)
Best finish: Runners-up in 2010
Worst finish: Eleventh in 1996 (as Western Province), 2006, 2014 and 2018
Squad (provisional): Kwenzo Blose, Neethling Fouché, Ali Vermaak, Steven Kitshoff, Wilco Louw, Leon Lyons, DJ Putter, Frans Malherbe, Ruan Laubser, Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni, Chad Solomon, Schalk Erasmus, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Salmaan Moerat, JD Schickerling, Ernst van Rhyn, Chris van Zyl, Hannes Gous, Ben-Jason Dixon, David Meihuizen, Thys Kitshoff, Johan du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Cobus Wiese, Hilton Lobberts, Nama Xaba, De Wet Marais, Juarno Augustus, Jaco Coetzee, Herschel Jantjies, Godlen Masimla, Paul de Wet, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Damian Willemse, Abner van Reenen, Daniël du Plessis, Ruhan Nel, Michal Hazner, Cornel Smit, Matt Moore, Leolin Zas, Sihle Njezula, Sergeal Petersen, Edwill van der Merwe, Seabelo Senatla, Dillyn Leyds, David Kriel, Lyle Hendricks