We caught up with Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant after the team’s semifinal loss to the Sharks last weekend to chat about the way forward for the team, his departure for Japan and the frustration at being overlooked by the Springboks.
The Stormers have been the most consistent South African Super Rugby team over the past three seasons, contesting a Final and two semifinals over that period, and while he may not get the recognition he deserves, flyhalf Peter Grant is the man who has been pulling the strings.
Yet despite winning the SA Conference for the second season running, as well as finishing on top of the joint log this season, the Stormers again came unstuck in the semifinals – this time to the Sharks at Newlands. It was another disappointing end to a season that had showed so much promise.
The fallout from the weekend’s loss was expected. The team’s tactics have been questioned (as they were all season), the term ‘choker’ has been thrown around with reckless abandon and the team’s personnel have been hauled over the coals of public scrutiny.
Grant, who will head to Japan on August 16 to continue his stint with the Kobe Steelers will not be a part of the Currie Cup with WP, but he did give us some insight into what if anything, will be changing at Newlands.
“I don’t think there will be too many changes,” Grant told iafrica.com.
“We have a lot of young guys and they have signed on for two-three year deals. So I think we are going to have a pretty good base of the same guys, which is what Allister [Coetzee] wanted to keep the group the same.
“There were a lot of youngsters that got their first taste of Super Rugby this season, which is going to be a big positive for us next season.
“As far as tactics are concerned – we finished number one, so that works – but obviously we are always looking to improve and we didn’t score a lot of tries so our attack is where we can probably change a few things, so I definitely think they got a few plans to try and mix it up in the Currie Cup and they have a few ideas going forward there.
“I won’t be a part of it, but that’s the plan.”
A massive clean-out of players was never going to be on the cards for the team, of course, with so many young players bursting onto the scene this season. Youngsters like Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and Steven Kitshoff are all still available for the WP U21 side, but they are all considered key parts of the senior team now after massive performances in 2012.
Grant admits he is as startled by their rise as everybody else…
“When I came back from Japan, there were guys there that I did not even know about! Names that were part of the squad… Etzebeth, I sort of saw, but he looked like a bit of a string bean when I Iast saw him, but when I got back from Japan he was a giant!” laughs Grant.
“All the guys can still play in under-21, Siya Kolisi was another. He would have been on the bench if Schalk and Duane had played the whole season, but he had an opportunity to play the whole season with Schalk being injured and even got a shot at being part of the Springbok set-up.
“It’s really exciting to have these ‘kids’ as part of the set-up – it makes me feel pretty old…”
The future does look bright for the Cape Town team, but unfortunately, the semifinal loss cannot be ignored and for some local fans, such losses are becoming harder to stomach. Consistency means little to fans who crave a trophy for the team they support religiously each season.
So despite losing just two games in the round robin stage of the tournament and finishing top of the log, the Stormers had to deal with an unrelenting wave of criticism throughout the season… criticism which seemed, by many, to be justified after the semifinal loss.
Having been with the Stormers since 2006, Grant is accustomed to the pressures of playing in the Cape, but while it can be tough, it is not something he would want to see change.
“Cape Town is a difficult place when it comes to that [the criticism]. When I started out in 2006 and 2007, we were fighting at the bottom end of the log… we were still getting the full crowds. This place is rugby crazy,” says Grant.
“When I go out for dinner, jeepers, I had so many people coming to tell me what they think. They are rugby mad and they love it and we wouldn’t be what we are if it wasn’t for them.”
It is not all doom and gloom, however, with the team getting plenty of messages of support, despite the premature end to their campaign.
“We did get a lot of messages of congratulations and support over the weekend, but you can’t please them all,” says Grant. “There were a lot of messages of support – they are still going to be Stormers supporters and hopefully they will still be back at the stadium next year wearing their Stormers jerseys.”
The media, of course, has been equally vocal about the team’s perceived weaknesses. The overreliance on their defence and inability to score tries has been chief amongst the complaints. But while Grant admits that improving their attack is something the Stormers management will be looking at, they are not going to abandon their defence in favour of an all-out attacking gameplan.
“The media has really been digging into us because of that.
“The fans want to see winning rugby, but attractive rugby as well and we haven’t being giving them enough of that. We are definitely going to be using the Currie Cup to be a little bit more experimental and move the ball around the bit, but defence wins games and it’s a very important part of our game… so we can’t neglect it, but we will definitely be looking to put more of an emphasis on our attacking game and try score a few more points.”
On page two, see what Grant has to say about conversations with Heyneke Meyer, his chances of Bok selection and his frustrations at not cracking the nod.