Tactical test beckons

The battle of the boot will be decisive in Saturday’s crunch match at Newlands.

Both teams possess explosive backs who love to run the ball, but the tactical approach in terms of a drive for territory cannot be underestimated. The fact that both teams boast such exemplary defensive systems will also demand variation by way of the boot. Both the Stormers and Waratahs have conceded 18 tries in 11 games, a defensive feat that is only second to that of the Crusaders (14).

Lote Tuqiri is not renowned for his kicking game, but he’ll have plenty to do at fullback this Saturday. Newlands will be cold and wet, and the likes of Ricky Januarie, Peter Grant and Conrad Jantjes should be peppering the Waratahs back three with garryowens.

Grant started the season poorly, but has improved steadily as the tournament has progressed. Apart from his reliable goal kicking, his tactical game has also improved. Januarie’s left boot is just as valuable, and with the Stormers kick chase in top form, the Tahs will find themselves under immense pressure when the wiry Springbok scrumhalf launches one of those box kicks.

Jantjes is in the form of his life and you’d back him to deal with anything the Tahs throw down. He’s fearless under the high ball, and his positional play has been flawless. His counter-attacking ability is another strength, but the Stormers have relied heavily on his exemplary kicking game. The Cape franchise need another top effort from Jantjes this Saturday.

The Waratahs aren’t exactly short of attacking weapons, and flyhalf Kurtley Beale presents the biggest threat. They have some great finishers in Lachie Turner and Rob Horne out wide, but Beale may look to kick into space should the Tahs fail to breach the Stormers defence.

The Stormers began their bid for a play-off place with a great tour of Australasia, securing 16 log points in four games. Their form at home has been flawless as far as results are concerned, but there are certain areas that require sharpening. They find themselves in the hunt for a home semi-final, but this weekend’s result will determine their final log standing. Most importantly, this fixture will showcase their ability to perform under pressure.

Coach Rassie Erasmus and captain Jean de Villiers claim they’ve been here before. The Stormers lost their first three games and were staring down the barrel with the notorious overseas tour looming. To give credit where it’s due, they came through that rough patch admirably, winning convincingly under pressure.

But Saturday’s game is new territory. It presents a new kind of pressure. How much have the Stormers learned from this home stretch, and tactically-speaking, can they best the Waratahs?

The answer to this question will determine where they finish on the Super 14 log, but that’s not the most important byproduct of their performance. The answer will determine whether they’re serious title contenders capable of toppling the Crusaders or merely a rebuilding side who’ve been fortunate to get this far.

By Jon Cardinelli