Ahead of the 2018 Super Rugby season we take a closer look at each of the tournament’s 15 teams participating. Next up, the Stormers.
As Super Rugby’s perennial under-achievers there will, once again, be plenty of pressure on the Stormers from their fanatical fans throughout this year’s competition.
Since the start of the tournament in 1996, the men from the Cape have played in nine play-off matches and won just one of those – against the Waratahs in 2010’s semi-final in Cape Town.
The Stormers have traditionally been amongst South Africa’s best performing sides in the competition and should be one of the Republic’s leading teams again this year.
Last Year: Under the guidance of head coach Robbie Fleck, the Stormers lost to the Chiefs in the quarter-finals at Newlands for the second successive year.
They made a terrific start to the tournament and won their first six matches against the Bulls, Jaguares, Southern Kings, Sunwolves, Cheetahs and Chiefs.
They suffered their first loss of the season the following week, against the Lions at Newlands, before heading on their tour of New Zealand where they suffered heavy losses to the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes.
They returned to South Africa where they beat the Blues in Cape Town but lost to the Sharks in Durban the following week and finished the league phase of the competition with victories against the Cheetahs, Sunwolves and Bulls.
After suffering a humiliating 60-21 defeat in that 2016 play-off, the Stormers improved in 2017 but still lost 17-11 to the men from Hamilton at the same stage of the tournament.
This Year: Their main aim will be to get over the quarter-final hurdle and hopefully onto better things after the semi-finals as well.
The Stormers kick off their campaign at home against the Jaguares before heading overseas where they take on the Waratahs, Crusaders and Highlanders on successive weekends.
They then return to Cape Town where they face the Blues and Reds at Newlands and then travel to Pretoria where they play their arch rivals, the Bulls, before being hosted by the Lions in Johannesburg.
In Round 9, the Stormers have a bye and after that they face the Sharks at Durban before hosting the Rebels, Bulls and Chiefs in Cape Town. Of their four remaining fixtures, two more will be at Newlands – against the Lions and Sharks – with the other two games being against the Sunwolves and Jaguares in Tokyo and Buenos Aires respectively.
Key players: With Robert du Preez, Kurt Coleman and Brandon Thompson all leaving the Cape Town-based franchise for greener pastures, and Jean-Luc du Plessis injured for the tournament’s early rounds, Damian Willemse will start as the Stormers’ first-choice fly-half. The 19-year-old is a prodigious talent who possesses a fine skill-set, quick feet and an astute rugby brain. Being the chief playmaker at Super Rugby level means there will be plenty of pressure on his young shoulders and he will be expected to be at his best from the start of the tournament.
Vice-captain Eben Etzebeth will miss a large chunk of the campaign due to injury whic means fellow Springbok lock Pieter-Steph du Toit will be expected to be at the forefront of the Stormers’ forward effort. A versatile player, who can also play on the flank, Du Toit had a disappointing 2017 campaign after being crowned as South Africa’s Player of the Year in 2016. Stormers fans will be hoping to see more of that 2016 form this year.
Another Springbok who will be crucial to the Stormers cause is their captain, Siya Kolisi. The 26-year-old was appointed as the team’s new skipper last year and thrived with the added pressure of leadership and there has been a marked improvement in his overall game. A strong ball carrier and solid defender, the flanker leads by example and if he’s on top of his game then the Stormers also usually do well.
Players to watch: Joining Kolisi in the Stormers back row is fellow Bok Nizaam Carr, who returned to the Cape-based franchise during the latter part of last month after a highly successful loan spell at Premiership side Wasps. Carr is a fine attacker, who links brilliantly with his backs and runs great support lines. Carr was one of Western Province’s stars during their successful Currie Cup campaign and finished that tournament with the most carries and tackles made as well as the most breaks, offloads and defenders beaten by a forward.
The Stormers pride themselves on their forward play, especially their scrummaging, and one player who will be important in that department is Springbok front-row Steven Kitshoff. He will be keen to make an impact for his hometown club after being ruled ineligible for last year’s play-offs. This, because he joined the Stormers squad during the latter stages of the league phase of the competition and didn’t play enough games for the team after returning from a stint with Bordeaux-Bègles. Kitshoff’s the prototype of the modern day prop. He is mobile, strong on attack and defence but also shines in doing his core duties.
Prospects: The South African conference will be very competitive but the Stormers should reach the play-offs, at least. Reaching the semi-finals will be tough but don’t rule this out especially if they secure a home quarter-final.
Players In: Steven Kitshoff (Bordeaux-Bègles), Sergeal Petersen (Cheetahs), Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs), JJ Engelbrecht (Toyota Industries Shuttles), Joshua Stander (Bulls), Neething Fouche (Bulls), George Whitehead (Griquas)
Players Out: Bjorn Basson (Oyonnax), Kurt Coleman (Southern Kings), Juan de Jongh (Wasps), Robert du Preez (Sharks), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse), Godlen Masimla (Southern Kings), Brandon Thompson (Glasgow Warriors), Frans van Wyk (Bulls)
Saturday, 17 February v Jaguares (Newlands, Cape Town)
Saturday, 24 February v Waratahs (Allianz Stadium, Sydney)
Saturday, 3 March v Crusaders (tbc)
Friday, 9 March v Highlanders (tbc)
Saturday, 17 March v Blues (Newlands, Cape Town)
Saturday, 24 March v Reds (Newlands, Cape Town)
Saturday, 31 March v Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
Saturday, 7 April v Lions (Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg)
Round 9: BYE
Saturday, 21 April v Sharks (Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban)
Friday, 27 April v Rebels (Newlands, Cape Town)
Saturday, 5 May v Bulls (Newlands, Cape Town)
Saturday, 12 May v Chiefs (Newlands, Cape Town)
Saturday, 19 May v Sunwolves (Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo)
Saturday, 26 May v Lions (Newlands, Cape Town)
Saturday, 30 June v v Jaguares (Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires)
Saturday, 7 July v Sharks (Newlands, Cape Town)
Round 19: BYE