Stormers do coach, Cheetahs a favour

Sun, 26 May 2013 17:57
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The Stormers’ win over the Reds at Newlands at the weekend came at a perfect time for under-fire coach Allister Coetzee and the Cheetahs.

The Stormers’ win over the Reds at Newlands at the weekend came at a perfect time for under-fire coach Allister Coetzee and the Cheetahs.

The 20-15 victory was as improbable as it was courageous.

Although the Reds looked lethargic in the loss to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein seven days earlier, they were widely expected to bounce back against an embattled Stormers side, who had slumped to a third consecutive defeat and maiden loss to the Rebels in Melbourne.

The Cape side’s 2013 regression had hit a new low, their injury count was at an all time high and the squad’s morale in dire straits. The pressure mounted on Coetzee, who had a point to prove this season after his star-studded team bombed out of back-to-back home semifinals.   

The anticlimatic ends to the 2011 and 2012 Super Rugby seasons brought Coetzee’s coaching pedigree and tactical nous into question.

Jake White’s World Cup-winning Springbok assistant quelled concerns when he employed a new attack-orientated approach and guided Western Province to their first Currie Cup title in 11 years.

However, criticism returned - and intensified - as Coetzee reverted to the conservative, tactical gameplan for the 2013 Super Rugby season that saw his team finish at the top of the log at the conclusion of the 2012 regular season.

Despite the team’s poor win record this season, the Stormers top brass announced that Coetzee had the full backing of the board and intimated that the turnaround of fortunes was due to the ever-growing casualty list rather than any tactical flaws on the part of Coetzee and his management team.     

Coetzee’s refusal to tweak his gameplan amidst a losing run only flamed the ire of Stormers supporters. Technically, his steadfast belief in his gameplan and structures is not without its merits as it’s not the gameplan perse that has lead to the Stormers’ demise this season.

Rather, it’s been the execution of said gameplan that has let them down. Without several injured first-choice stalwarts, the Stormers have been unable to execute their strategy effectively and it’s in this regard where Coetzee could be criticised - for failing to identify the need for subtle changes that suit the strengths of the players who have sidestepped the injury curse.

He effectively put his trust in the players, many of whom are fringe players, to come to his aid - and boy did they repay his faith in their abilities against the play-off-chasing Reds.

The win at the weekend would have afforded Coetzee some respite from the Stormers’ expectant and disillusioned fan base. How long it will last remains to be seen, though, as while pride and desire will be enough for them to topple the Southern Kings both home and away, the Cape collective will have their work cut out for them against the Cheetahs (on June 29) and the Bulls (on July 13).

The win also did the Cheetahs’ hopes of securing a maiden play-off berth the world of good. The Bloemfontein-based side were full value for their vital 34-22 bonus point away win over the Kings hours earlier, and the Stormers’ unexpected victory ensured that the Cheetahs leapt from seventh to fourth place on the log.

Defeats for the Crusaders and Blues, to the Chiefs and Brumbies respectively, also contributed to the Cheetahs finding themselves in a wonderful position to make history.

They are now once again firmly in control of their own destiny.

By Quintin van Jaarsveld

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