Stormers embrace their uphill battle in the URC
Western Cape side have been in a similar early season position in previous years
Long-distance runners based in the Cape Peninsula often refer to the howling southeaster as their friend, in the sense that running into it is so tough that it has a similar effect on conditioning as hill training.
It appears the Stormers are thinking along similar lines as they face a sudden early uphill in their United Rugby Championship (URC) campaign.
It says a lot about how perceptions and expectations have shifted over the past two years for those who work for the Cape franchise and their supporters that both are referring to two consecutive defeats as a blip or a dip.
It also says a lot about how far the Stormers have progressed since the embryonic days of the first URC season, when their first tour in the competition left them in a similar situation.
“There is no change from our approach in the past, we are just looking to improve and it is important that we continue to do that,” forwards coach Rito Hlungwani said when asked if there was a level of desperation in the camp after the losses to Glasgow Warriors and Benetton that started their four-match tour.
“Fortunately we have been in this position before. In our first season we were in the same situation, on our first tour and we had challenges back then.
“The one thing we did well then was just focus on getting better and not looking too far ahead. If there is any desperation it is desperation for improvement.”
Hlungwani is right, but only partly so when he compares the here and now to the similar stage of 2021. Back then the Stormers had shown signs of improvement in the Rainbow Cup and were starting to move towards the attacking game that served them so well over the first two URC seasons.
But they were coming off a low base and therefore there were lower expectations, certainly from outside the playing and coaching group.
Heightened expectation is unfortunately the price paid for being inaugural champions and then holding on to that status until just a few minutes short of the final whistle of the grand final of the following season.
It is a heightened challenge that the Stormers appear eager to embrace as a part of their growth. How they respond to the rare early pressure in terms of log position — they are outside the top eight for the first time since January 2021 — will be the making of them.
It could present head coach John Dobson with a growth opportunity.
While acknowledging the significance of a return match against Munster, who beat them in the 2022 final and also in a crucial league game in Cape Town, Hlungwani didn’t want to make too big a deal of it.
“This is going to feel like I am a broken record, but for us it is all about playing in the URC and doing well in the URC. We have set ourselves high standards and right now we are far away from where we want to be.
“We are driving constantly to get better and we can’t suddenly change the narrative just because we are playing Munster. The main focus for us is improvement.”
SA Rugby Communications
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