We’ve watched the Stormers struggle in the opening weeks of Super Rugby. Consequently we’ve seen a substantial amount of criticism from fans and the media – many of whom are calling for management to give the coaching staff the boot. But before Allister Coetzee and his men are shown the door, some perspective is needed.
The Stormers have suffered a number of injuries including the likes of Juan de Jongh, Rynhardt Elstadt, De Kock Steenkamp and Scarra Ntubeni. While these players are relatively young, they have added physicality and innovation – even as youngsters – to the Stormers’ game plan. Perhaps this has added to the team’s troubles. But is it the root cause of the Stormers’ tragic log standing? No.
What is more alarming is not the fact that the Stormers have suffered so many defeats at such an early stage of the competition, but the manner in which they have earned them. The Stormers have played with no vigour, no passion and seemingly, no inspiration. The Stormers are infamous for their lack of attacking capabilities but this year we saw their previously rock solid defence crumble. Is this a fault on a coaching level or does the problem lie with the players? Barring a few exceptions, due to injuries and a handful of players who have sought to continue their careers elsewhere, this is more or less the same Stormers team we’ve become accustomed to. It’s the same coaching staff, applying the same previously successful techniques. So what’s no longer working?
It seems that too many players have forgotten that wearing the Stormers jersey – or any team’s jersey for that matter – is a privilege and never a right. Regardless of whether you are playing your first or your hundredth Super Rugby match, it is your honour to play for the team and you are entitled to nothing. Senior players who believe that they have paid their dues and believe that they have earned the right to their position in the team are nothing but detrimental to the squad’s success. Unfortunately there are a few big heads belonging to big “rugby families” floating around the Stormers squad, who are adamant on stagnating the Stormers’ talent pool. These individuals need to deflate their egos, and perhaps their pay checks, or else they need to find other teams who are willing to put up with them. Senior players are not merely players; they are mentors to the younger members of the squad. Should a senior player be selfish enough to not accept this additional role, there should not be a space for him in the team. When mentored correctly, youngsters will receive advice from veterans, not only making them better players but creating cohesion within the team that we are just not seeing from the Stormers.
Western Province Rugby Union (WPRU) has the privilege of being able to pluck talented youngsters from promising local rugby clubs such as UCT, who have enjoyed a successful Varsity Cup campaign, and Maties Rugby, one of the largest rugby clubs in the world. But WPRU is squandering its resources. Not enough young players that come through the ranks make it to Super Rugby level and the blame sits squarely on the union’s shoulders.
Each year we witness an exodus of players who have either been plucked at U19 or U21 level by other franchises or who have gone on to represent the Stormers who get fed up and bail. We have heard too many stories of young players who were either promised contracts or starting positions only to have WPRU renege on those promises. Management should not make promises that they have no intention to fulfill.
Transparency is key to creating trust amongst management and players. If a player is only third in line to receive a contract or will be playing the majority of his rugby off the bench then he has the right to know. Not only does it give the individual an opportunity to either improve his game or make alternative arrangements but it lets him know exactly where he stands. Every year fans ask why WPRU lose so many players and why players just can’t seem to stay loyal to the union. It’s simple: it’s impossible to be loyal to people you cannot trust.
WPRU in its entirety needs a makeover; they are in desperate need of innovation. They need somebody ruthless who can set personal feelings aside and weed out the problematic individuals starting from CEO, Rob Wagner, right down to the youngest player. They need fresh eyes to give perspective, they need people who are determined to restoring integrity to a once a great union. They need to rid themselves of men in suits who are more concerned with filling their wallets than their trophy cabinet. Does that include Coetzee? Possibly. But the problems at the Stormers run much deeper than their coach and saving their union is going to take a lot more hiring and firing. They may need a few years to rebuild but a powerful skyscraper is far better than a rickety Wendy house. They have the potential, they just need to trust and invest in it.