Key decision makers, balance and culture drive Stormers

The Stormers defied the odds this season to finish second in the United Rugby Championship to champions Leinster and claim the South African crest ahead of their local rivals.

The Capetonians won 12 of 18 games, losing just four and drawing two. Of the 12 wins, eight came against opponents from the Northern Hemisphere, while the team’s record when playing in South Africa was excellent, winning 10 of 12 with a seven-match winning streak at the Cape Town Stadium still intact.

South African rivals the Bulls and Sharks have recruited heavily over the last 18 months, and few expected John Dobson’s men to end up at the top of the heap, given the turmoil within the union structure.

Puzzle

success for him storms it is not due to a significant financial injection, but to smart recruiting, balance in critical areas and a flourishing team culture based on the fundamentals of rugby in the Western Cape.

Arguably the biggest signing of the season was captain Steven Kitshoff’s contract extension. This was a sign of intent; keeping a World Cup winner, as well as a leader within the team, is huge. In addition, he showed confidence in the project and the processes that Dobson and his team of coaches designed.

Brok Harris initially rejoined the Stormers as a scrum consultant but laced up his boots and took to the pitch. Having played over 100 games for the Dragons, his knowledge of Northern Hemisphere conditions, referees and styles of play has been invaluable to the team.

Finding balance in key bindings has been another cornerstone of the Stormers’ success. The loose trio of breakdown specialist Deon Fourie, dynamic Hacjivah Dayimani, and beefy Springbok bolter Evan Roos have been crucial.

Fourie finished the competition with a whopping 23 turnovers (second in the CRU), providing a counterattack platform for the creative rearguard.

It took Dayimani a few games to adjust, but his blistering pace, scintillating fingers and ball skills transcended loose advancement into a different realm, making him an X-factor player and certainly one to reckon with for the future.

Roos needs no introduction to the rugby world as he executed the most successful carries (125) and beat the most defenders (49) in the competition. The number eight almost always crosses the advantage line, drilling holes in the defensive structure, narrowing the defense line and opening wider channels for the likes of Leolin Zas and Seabelo Senatla. Without a doubt, Roos will be in the conversation for the URC player of the season.

A hallmark of this particular side of the Stormers is expansive free-running play that is very easy on the eyes. At times this season, it seemed like the poisonous defensive line could score whenever they had the ball in their hands. The key to this is the three decision makers behind the scrum.

Midfielder Manie Libbok has been an outright general this season, taking on a huge playload. The freedom and instinct employed by Libbok in the attack have been a joy to behold. He combines those aspects with an immense skill set, including an impressive sense of the ball and the outrageous ability to kick with both feet, and the center becomes a decisive factor.

Utility back Damian Willemse has had one of his best seasons since bursting onto the Super Rugby scene in 2017 as an 18-year-old. As impressive as his season was, however, he saddled the talented star with all the playmaking responsibility, ultimately forcing him to force passes, kicks and decisions on offense. With Libbok taking that weight off his shoulders, the superstar has flourished by playing the game in front of him, joining his teammates or attacking the win line.

Willemse’s versatility has been crucial in slotting the last key backline decision maker, Warrick Gelant, as the 24-year-old has seamlessly switched between full-back and inside center throughout the campaign to accommodate his teammate.

Gelant has underscored his supreme ability to unlock defenses this season, whether it be a well-timed short pass, cross kick or just running power. Having been sidelined for a long time with an ACL injury prior to this season, the 27-year-old has sent a strong message to the Gazelle coaching staff and could threaten the current Willie le Roux.

However, three red-hot playmakers need finishers around them to complete the puzzle. Zas has been in the best form of his career and is the URC’s top try scorer with 11 tries this campaign. The small forward is an instinctive player and has shown that he masters the art of traditional finishing and the ability to turn half chances into attempts with clever forward kicks, a vicious lateral step or pure pace.

On the other hand, there is Blitzbok legend Senalta, who seems to be finally adapting from the game of sevens to XVs, as his nine attempts suggest. Senalta is much more than the speedster he became known for on the sevens circuit: he’s physical on defense, solid under the high ball and adept at breaking. It has been his most complete season in the XV game.

Team culture and tactical awareness are critical for all these moving parts to align on the Stormers’ field. Dobson and his coaching staff have built a passionate, hard-working team culture based on self-expression on the field. Established structures require discipline to execute the core aspects of each role, but offer the freedom to play and entertain after that.

Lightning-fast counterattacks and bold attacking plays are only possible with the building blocks in place, as is clear from the way the Stormers have typically missed the first 30 minutes before scoring often on the cusp of halftime and exploding. In the second half. .

There is great synergy on the Stormers field, and for a team with very little support from the higher powers of the union, the team has developed a culture that allows their performances to do the talking.

Their remarkable season of joyful rugby for players and fans alike continues when they take on Edinburgh in the quarter-finals at the Cape Town Stadium on June 4.

READ MORE: Loose Pass – Players miss a trick by not following Joe Marchant’s lead and embarrassing scenes in the Sevens game

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