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Pressure mounting on Stormers to deliver title

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee at training

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Article Published: Wednesday 12 February 2014|

Pressure is mounting on Cape Town based Super Rugby franchise to deliver on their potential in 2014 having fallen short in recent years.

For all the promise the Cape Town franchise holds, they only have two conference titles - 2011 and 2012 - to show for their hard work and three consecutive semi-final defeats prior to 2011.

The team looked set to turn the tables on their near-misses as they went into the last season with arguably their strongest squad to date.

Injuries to key personnel throughout the season, however, eroded their player depth which ultimately robbed the team of consistency in team selections.

Injuries to players such as Jaco Taute, Duane Vermeulen, Tiaan Liebenberg, Siya Kolisi and the earlier losses of Eben Etzebeth and Schalk Burger had a devastating effect. on the side.

Following a bye in the first week of the competition, the Stormers made a lacklustre start to their campaign losing their opening games against the Sharks and the Bulls, while they scraped past eventual champions the Chiefs in Cape Town and triumphed over the Brumbies.

They could not build enough steam to carry them through their tour of Australasia where they managed to beat the Hurricanes in their first match before losing the remaining three.

While their season got off to a stuttering start they finished with a flourish winning five consecutive matches but their earlier form had already taken its toll, leaving them in seventh place overall.

The Stormers have since lost the services of Springbok wing Bryan Habana, Gerhard van den Heever, Dewaldt Duvenage, Andries Bekker and Joe Pietersen to overseas clubs.

They suffered early injury setbacks in the backline with breakthrough talent Cheslin Kolbe and Springbok centre Juan de Jongh added to the injury list which already included lock sensation Eben Etzebeth.

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee was nevertheless positive about his side's preparations ahead of their season opener against the Lions in Johannesburg after their bye in the first week of the Super Rugby competition.

"All in all, I'm really happy and satisfied. We're in a better position than we were at this point last year," Coetzee said.

"I would say the squads are a lot stronger all round this year. There is also far greater depth although the teams have depth shortfall in a few positions.

"The South African teams will be far more competitive this season."

The Stormers will be buoyed by the return to the region by flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis while they have also found an able replacement for Bekker in Argentina's Manuel Carizza.

They will also have Taute returning to the last line of defence to add some extra attacking prowess in the backline.

The Western Cape franchise may be thinner in terms of depth than last year but they still have plenty of star-quality in their ranks.

Springbok stalwart Burger, who missed the 2012 season almost entirely with a knee injury and most of last year after contracting bacterial meningitis, will return to the side as vice-captain to Jean de Villiers.

The 30-year-old's presence should provide some extra motivation to the side, and together with Vermeulen and Kolisi they make a dream loose trio.

"Schalla (Burger) has played 80 minutes against the Bulls at altitude and he's done well and again in his 40 minutes against the Kings. It was another quality performance," Coetzee said of the inspirational player.

"So he's done 120 minutes and there's no doubt about his fitness - no injuries, no niggles, nothing."

While the Stormers have built a reputation around their nigh-impenetrable defence, they have come under scrutiny for their lack of attacking nous.

The side leaked the fewest tries in last year's competition, while they had the third lowest try count, earning only a single tries bonus point.

The Stormers have a physical pack of forwards which should be able to give the backline some go-forward ball, but to be successful they will have to find regular passage over the try line.

Given the fact the Stormers possibly have the toughest draw - playing the Hurricanes in the third round before they go on their Australasian tour to face the Crusaders, Chiefs, Brumbies and the Reds - they can ill-afford a slow start to the competition.

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