Stormers must stay sensible
11 Mar 2010
Forget an expansive performance. Aggressive defence, clinical lineout work and an abrasive breakdown display will set the stage for a win over the Hurricanes.
Ever the diplomat, Allister Coetzee said the Stormers will keep the ball in hand on Saturday. For those desperate for the Sevens-style touch rugby showcased in the Lions vs Chiefs fixture, this may be cause for excitement. For those who took note of Coetzee’s comments earlier in the week, it’s clear the Stormers will keep with a more sensible approach.
Ball retention is the Stormers’ priority, and this means the Cape franchise will look to make better use of their possession than they have in previous weeks. The decision-making hasn’t been great, as players have often kicked when the run was on, or run from their own territory when the clearance was more prudent. They’ve also dropped the ball at crucial moments, and a number of try-scoring opportunities have gone begging.
Against bottom-four teams like the Lions and Highlanders, it’s not a big deal, but you can’t squander chances against teams like the Hurricanes. The Stormers missed out against the Brumbies, and they’ve no doubt taken a lesson from that error-strewn defeat.
You can’t set out to beat a team like the Canes with an all-out attack. As disjointed as the Kiwis are at the moment, they have the individuals capable of turning the spilled passes that have characterised the Stormers backline’s season into try-scoring chances. They are lethal on the counter, but are limited if you tighten your approach.
The Stormers defence has been nothing short of magnificent. They’ve conceded two tries and 48 points in four matches. The miserly Crusaders are a distant second with seven tries and 84 points conceded. The Stormers’ line defence has been impresssive, but so too has their defence at the breakdown. Schalk Burger and Francois Louw have worked well together under the new laws, and pose a big threat to the Canes at the tackle.
The lineout is another strong point, and after two tries earned through powerful mauls that would’ve had northern hemisphere critics out of their armchairs, why would they want to move away from what works? Sure the Canes pack has several All Black individuals, but as the early rounds have proved, they’re not nearly as dangerous as a unit.
Coetzee wants his backline attack to keep striving for that elusive synergy, and has even uttered the Peter de Villiers phrase of ‘when we come off, we’re going to be one helluva force’. You have to appreciate what the Stormers are trying to do in their quest to become the complete team. Their scrum is steady, their breakdown and lineout is thriving, their defence is top of the competition and their kicking game, although still lacking distance, is working. The backline attack is the only concern, but now is not the time to ‘keep trying’.
The Canes thrive in broken play, so why give them the opportunity of scooping a knock on and scoring at the other end of the park? The Stormers have already beaten the Waratahs, they should have beaten the Brumbies and are favourites to beat the Hurricanes. An ugly win will suffice when you’re playing the top teams. As it is in Test rugby, you shouldn’t increase the risk by persisting with something that is yet to come off.
The Stormers’ finishing requires work, but these ambitions need to be placed on hold for the time being. The Canes are too great a counter-attacking threat, and as any coach will tell you, you don’t play to the opposition’s strengths. As Coetzee himself has said, the Stormers want to starve the Canes of possession, and that begins with respecting your own ball. This means playing tighter, smarter rugby.
Whether it rains in Cape Town this Saturday or not, the humidity afflicting the Mother City at present is hardly conducive to an expansive spectacle. These conditions will suit the hosts in what some may call a more conservative approach and others may call a winning one. As a team, the Canes have shown nothing to suggest they’ll trouble the Stormers at home, but of course, this all depends on the Cape side staying true to their winning formula.
By Jon Cardinelli