Stormers are the real SA success story
June 1, 2008
"Springbok coach Peter de Villiers's bold statement that three South African sides were capable of making the Super14-semifinals ended up being pie in the sky." Stephen Nell analyses South Africa's Super 14 season.
Ultimately it was left to the Sharks to fly a lone South African flag as they clinched third place on the final day. However, beating the Waratahs in Sydney in the semifinals was always going to prove a task beyond them.
Considering that the Bulls were the Super14 champions, it would not have been that far off the mark to suggest that three South African sides should challenge.
The champions, however, were a sorry sight minus their coach, Heyneke Meyer, and their skipper, Victor Matfield, from last year.
While the Sharks made the semifinals, the success story from a South African perspective was the impressive revival of the Stormers.
The prophets of doom were out as they lost their first three games, but they got a remarkable revival going with possibly the most successful tour in South Africa's Super rugby history, picking up 16 out of a possible 20 points with three victories from four games.
In fact, the Stormers' only defeat on tour came in the dying seconds of their game against the Blues, as a last-ditch penalty condemned them to an unlucky 14-17 defeat.
It ended up being the Stormers' only loss in their last 10 games and who knows what might have been had Rassie Erasmus's team managed to sneak into the play-offs.
In the end they fell one agonising try short of that goal, managing only three tries in their final match against the Lions when a fourth would have given them the additional log point required for qualification.
They were still in with a chance as the Sharks took the field for their match against the Chiefs, but Dick Muir's team turned in their best performance of the season to overtake the Hurricanes and Stormers.
The Sharks' thumping at the hands of the Waratahs was a sad way for Muir to end off as the Durban outfit's coach. However, he will be fondly remembered for the work he did there, and his input valued as the Springboks' new backline coach.
One benefit is that it gave De Villiers an added week with the Sharks players, several of whom made the cut for his Bok squad.
If there is a concern, it's that South Africa's winning culture took a bit of a thumping, with the Bulls a shadow of last year's side, and the Cheetahs and Lions predictably propping up the log.
Looking to the future, however, there is reason for optimism. The Stormers have already signed up veteran utility forward AJ Venter and Springbok fullback Percy Montgomery with an eye to giving momentum to next year's campaign.
In addition, former Cheetahs flyhalf Willem de Waal has turned his back on French club Narbonne and is also moving to Cape Town. Giant Fijian wing Sireli Naqelevuki has also extended his contract.
Matfield has returned to Pretoria and his inspirational leadership will once again be at the Bulls' disposal.
There are also talks to take Springbok captain John Smit back to the Sharks, which may just be the spark new coach John Plumtree needs to build on their success for 2009.
Don't expect much to change for the Lions and Cheetahs, but the future of the Stormers in Cape Town is looking very bright indeed.
Concussion, relegation and the mother of all surprises - it's the Monday Maul.