The key challenge of pre-season is always to prepare to get better. For a club, it is to be better than the previous season’s performance, for a player it is to be better than those challenging for your position in the team and for the fans and media it is to be better than the sum of their expectations. The Stormers face a significant challenge to better their performance in 2011. Finishing top of the South African section, they were then blown away in the semi-finals by the Crusaders but have crucially also seen the loss of some key personnel in the off-season. A total of fourteen players have left including Jaque Fourie and Francois Louw whilst recruitment of replacements can only be described as 'modest'.
Instead the Stormers will look to their existing squad to step up and continue the good work done at Newlands over the past few years. Key responsibilities will now rest with PUMA athletes Schalk Burger and Gio Aplon for the season ahead. So far, in the Pre-Season Series, both have signalled their intention to meet that challenge head on.
Schalk Burger has again been named as Stormers captain for 2012 and led from the front in their games against the Lions and the Cheetahs. He is also hotly tipped to take the armband for the Springboks too. The appointment of a new national coach in Heyneke Meyer is also giving rise to further ‘new coach = new captain’ speculation, with Burger the obvious candidate amongst the press and fans alike.
‘Gio’ meanwhile scored two excellent tries in the 28-6 win against the Lions and is keen to keep building his strike partnership with fellow wing Bryan Habana for both the Stormers and South Africa. Initially a very successful sevens specialist he has since cemented a place in the Springboks squad since 2010 through a series of outstanding performances for his club. If pre-season form is anything to go by, Stormers fans can look forward to a flurry of tries from him this year.
Schalk Burger is likely to be rested against The Southern Kings in the Stormers final warm up game on Saturday but Aplon is expected to make the squad. Come the 24th February 2012 and the opening game of the Super 15 season against the Hurricanes at Newlands both Gio Aplon, Schalk Burger and the entire Stormers rugby club will be ready and looking to better last season by winning the Super 15.