Stormers’ extensive winning streak is one for the ages

Stormers’ extensive winning streak is one for the ages
Sacha Mngomezulu of DHL Stormers scores try during the United Rugby Championship match between Zebre Parma and DHL Stormers at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on 8 October, 2022 in Parma, Italy. (Photo: Roberto Bregani/Gallo Images)

The Stormers are enjoying a purple patch in the URC, but they’re not taking it for granted.

The last time the Stormers lost a competitive match, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine was just 48 hours old, South Africans were still restricted under Covid regulations and fuel cost less than R20 per litre.

Many things have changed in the past eight months, but the Stormers winning, is not one of them. The current Stormers squad, which won the inaugural United Rugby Championship (URC) title in 2022, are currently on a 14-match winning streak in the tournament. In sporting terms, that is already a massive achievement.

If they win against Welsh side the Ospreys this weekend, it would officially be the second-longest winning streak in URC/PRO12/14 history. Leinster hold the record of 26 straight wins in the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Suleiman Hartzenberg of DHL Stormers

Suleiman Hartzenberg of DHL Stormers competes for a high ball with Simone Gesi of Zebre Parma during their United Rugby Championship match at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on 8 October, 2022 in Parma, Italy. (Photo: Roberto Bregani/Gallo Images)

For context, in more than 20 seasons of Super Rugby, the Stormers’ longest winning sequence was six games, which they achieved on three separate occasions over the years.

They have a little way to go yet to emulate the great Crusaders side of 2018/19, which won 19 matches on the bounce in Super Rugby. It was a tournament record that will never be broken as the competition, including South African teams, has been disbanded.

In football, Manchester City’s 18-match winning streak in the Premier League is a record in 2017-18 that has not been matched.

The Stormers’ last loss was a 19-17 defeat away to Connacht on 26 February, which kick-started the run which included winning the URC final against the Bulls.

So far in the new 2022/23 season, the Stormers have added three more victories, all with try-scoring bonus points, to make the best possible start to the defence of their title.

Although comparing the URC to Super Rugby or the English Premier League is a futile exercise, consistency is a valued currency in any competition. And the Stormers have shown that. They have some tough assignments in the coming weeks against four Welsh sides, including two away from home.

Close shaves

Their winning streak hasn’t been without close shaves. Manie Libbok’s URC semi-final-clinching conversion against Ulster, which gave the Cape side a 17-15 injury-time victory, was the closest.

The Stormers also beat Ulster 23-20 in last season’s pool play thanks to a controversial decision over a potentially illegal tackle by Hacjivah Dayimani that stopped a try being scored. The Stormers also endured a 19-17 arm-wrestle win over the Bulls. But over the course of a season, there will be good calls and bad. The Stormers have been good enough to win.

“Every time these boys play now, they create history. They have now won 14 matches in succession. It is an incredible achievement and to not acknowledge it would just be wrong,” coach John Dobson wrote in his weekly diary.

“A wise senior once told me to always recognise an occasion, to celebrate the moment and to not rely on hindsight to understand what that moment meant.”

Andre-Hugo Venter of DHL Stormers

Andre-Hugo Venter of DHL Stormers is tackled by Latu Latunipulu of Zebre Parma during their United Rugby Championship match at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on 8 October, 2022 in Parma, Italy. (Photo: Roberto Bregani/Gallo Images)

Dobson, who is a rugby romantic as well as a realist, can rightfully feel confident that the team could extend the winning streak. But it must end at some stage too. The coach has simply asked his players to continue performing, working, training and playing to their full potential in search of the perfect game.

There are tougher challenges to come, and the depth of the squad will be severely tested when a legion of Springboks players tour Britain and Europe with the national team next month. That’s not even accounting for inevitable injuries. Already star wing Seabelo Senatla is out for months with a shoulder injury.

“These are boys who want to succeed, for themselves, for their families and for every rugby supporter in the province,” Dobson wrote.

“They hurt in training if it doesn’t go well, and they hurt during the match if it isn’t always going according to plan. There are times when we all must remind ourselves of the joy in our results and performances.

“In that grand world of utopia, we strive for the perfect game, the perfect performance and the perfect result. I know it doesn’t exist because the opinion is subjective and on that one day that I may feel we have reached rugby utopia, I may be reminded by an astute rugby brain that we failed in a basic application of the game.

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“Rugby has its complexities in the laws and the application of those laws, and it certainly has its complexities among all of us who coach, manage, play and support a squad.

“I love it because if it was simple, there would always be agreement. How boring.

“I write this with a wry smile because the debate is what drives interest in the pre-match build-up and, the more debate the more interest in the game.

“What I do want to state emphatically is the team philosophy of a squad. You don’t win a match in this league with 15 players, and you don’t win the title with a match-day squad of 23 players.

“We are an extended squad and everyone in that squad must play throughout the season, and when we succeed it is because of the entirety of the squad.

“Pre-season, we set ourselves targets, to win the first two home matches. We achieved that, with two try-scoring bonus points. We set ourselves a target to win in Parma, Italy, against Zebre, and we achieved that with a try-scoring bonus point.

Sacha Mngomezulu of DHL Stormers

Sacha Mngomezulu of DHL Stormers converts a try during the United Rugby Championship match between Zebre Parma and DHL Stormers at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on 8 October, 2022 in Parma, Italy. (Photo: Roberto Bregani/Gallo Images)

“It was a wonderful achievement, given we started the opening match of the season with just five of the XV who started the 2021/22 URC title-winning final against the Bulls.

“This was always going to be a season of so many layers. We must defend a title, manage the game time of the current Springboks, integrate the next generation of players into our system, play our brand of rugby and get wins.

“My gratitude to the players is extended to the coaches, management and all the support we get from the administration.”

Part of that juggling process Dobson referred to was protecting key Springbok players by resting them in accordance with national needs. The current tour saw Bok props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe stay home. 

Utlility back Damian Willemse and scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies played against Zebre and have returned to Cape Town as part of their resting protocols.

Clayton Blommetjies, who was married at the weekend, said he will take a honeymoon at a later stage as he flew out to join the Stormers in Europe. DM

The six best winning streaks and the teams that ended them

26    Leinster            18 May 19-22 Nov 20 (Connacht)

14     Munster           18 Feb 11-23 Sep 11 (Edinburgh)

14*   Stormers         13 Mar 22-

12     Leinster            24 Sep 11-17 Feb 12 (Glasgow D 10-10)

11      Leinster           17 Aug 01-30 Aug 02 (Glasgow)

11      Ulster                31 Aug 12-21 Dec 12 (Munster)


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